Sara Hawkins and her children have lived in North Appleton for the past ten years. Previous to that, they lived in Minneapolis, but moved home to be part of the family business. A family business and family last namewell known to the Fox Valley area—Gunderson Family Companies. Sara attended St. Olaf College in Northland, Minnesota and graduated with degrees in Economics and Asian Studies. While there, she learned to love and embrace her Norwegian heritage while studying. “Years ago, my grandma taught me how to make lefse,” Sara said. “I love to make it at Christmas time—it’s a family favorite and tradition.” Her three children attend Xavier Catholic Schools: Sam is in 7th grade, Ella is in 5th grade, and Jack is in 4th grade. All three kids enjoy basketball and play in the Xavier Youth Basketball Association basketball program. Ella loves volleyball and is playing for HEAT volleyball club this season as well. As a family, they love watching sports (Packers and Badgers of course), playing cards, family dinners, and taking walks. They all truly love the neighborhood in which they live.
Together with her brothers, Sara is a third generation employee of the Gunderson Family Companies. Their grandpa, Doug Gunderson, began Gunderson Cleaners in 1952 with one dry cleaning location. In 1989, their father Gary purchased the business from his father and has continued to expand the company. Today, Gunderson Family Companies has five brands/divisions: Gunderson Cleaners with eight Fox Valley locations and has been voted Best of the Valley for eleven years in a row; Tradition Cleaners has six central Wisconsin locations; Gunderson Uniform and Linen Rental/Health Care Linen Service; Accents Image Wear provides embroidery and promotional design work; FRSTeam by Gunderson is for fire restoration, fabric restoration and specializes in textile restoration for the insurance industry. “With over sixty years of experience, our family really takes pride in being experts in dry cleaning, laundry, fabric restoration and professional image,” Sara said. Together, the Gunderson Family Company employs 225 employees in the Fox Valley and throughout Central Wisconsin.
Doug Gunderson (Sara’s grandpa) passed away in 2014, but her grandma Mary (known as Gigi to the great-grandkids) is 95 years old and still full of life! Sara’s parents are Gary and Judy, but are affectionately known as Mimi and Bapa to the grandkids. Sara’s brother, Doug is married to Corrin and they have a daughter named Lily. Her other brother, Greg is married to Amy and they have two children—Graden and Norah. “One of my favorite phrases we use in the business is to ‘Be the reason someone smiles today!’” Sara said. “This is just a great reminder of how to live life, not just in your personal life, but also your business.” We all do truly have the ability every day to put on a smile and enjoy the day that’s been given to us. With this in mind, the Gunderson Family Companies strive to improve the quality of life in the communities in which we live, work, and play. Their mission is to actively reach out to those in need and give back to those who have given so much to them. They seek to engage at a deeper level, encourage volunteerism among their staff, and work to enthusiastically contribute to help build a better community. With such a long-standing history of family success, no doubt they are doing just that.