Caroline Josephine Kretoski Gainer, Sept. 18, 1929, to May 31, 2021.
Caroline (Carrie) Josephine Kretoski Gainer was a proud Polish American, West Virginian, sister to eight, mother of four, with an adventuresome spirit and sense of humor that got us all through “thick and thin.” After 14 years of covering for, handling with humor, and challenging us with her dementia, she died peacefully at the age of 91 in Matamoras, Pennsylvania not far from Springdale, Pennsylvania, place of her birth.
She was a baby when her family moved to Grant Town, West Virginia. Carrie’s Polish immigrant father, Josef Krzeptowski, died young of coalminer’s Black Lung when she was little. When she was in the third grade, they moved to the little coal mining town of Rivesville, West Virginia. Carrie was the middle child of Anna Kolvek Kretoski Drost and stepfather, George Drost, and as is common in large families, she was raised by older siblings as much as by parents. Growing up in Rivesville was tough and prepared her well for the challenges in her adult life. She learned to swim in the Monongahela River, ran and climbed as fast as her brothers, competed with bloody knees and knuckles in the dusty street game of marbles, and played hard to win in card games.
She graduated from high school in three years to enter the workforce. She worked several jobs, including one in a Baltimore factory where she was hired because she was lefthanded. After earning her cosmetology license, she joined her sister at Vicki’s Beauty Shop in Rivesville for several years in the late 1940s. After she married Gordon Gainer in 1950, she set up her own beauty salon in Fairmont, West Virginia. These were her first experiences in business ownership and management.
In 1952, Carrie and Gordon moved to Newark, Ohio, with their new baby and new jobs at Owens-Corning Fiberglas.
In the 30 years Carrie lived in Newark and Heath, Ohio, she raised four children, and became an active community leader respected for her business acumen, political savvy, and dedication to community organizations and causes for women, youth and families. For four years, Carrie established and operated the State’s Licking County Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Newark. In 1963, she and Gordon formed Ace Newspapers, Inc., a weekly newspaper and printing business to serve the growing population of Heath, Ohio, and surrounding communities. She was editor, newswriter and photographer. The family business was located in the Mid-Ohio Industrial Park and after school, on weekends and summers, the family put in a large garden, basketball hoop and picnic table behind the business building. This is where the Gainer children were instilled with Carrie and Gordon’s strong work ethic.
She served on many boards, ran for the office of County Clerk of Courts, and in 1974, was honored as the Licking County Democratic Woman of the Year. Carrie was known for her honesty, fair-mindedness and humor to forge cooperative relationships among groups. She deeply appreciated the close working relationships and supportive, lasting friendships she made during these years.
In 1983, after her youngest child’s high school graduation, Carrie started the next chapter of her life. With only a modest savings and what she could pack in her car, she drove to California to be near her sisters and oldest daughter.
She immediately began networking among professional women’s groups in Sacramento, initially working as a Kelly Girl and at the Federated Firefighters of California. She secured a position at the U.C. Davis Student Housing Office and was later hired as the administrative director for the U.C. Davis Medical Center’s Department of Internal Medicine, Radiology, Hematology/Oncology Division. She always remembered the people who helped her get back on her feet and was determined to “pay it forward.” While working full-time at UC Davis Medical Center, she earned her real estate license and actively sold real estate for three years. The house she bought in Sacramento was a way station at different times for each of her children, Maggie, Gordon, Patty and Vicki. She made her comfortable home available for her kids and close friends, and it was like the TV comedy, “Golden Girls,” when her friends roomed with her. Carrie became an avid hiker, biker, and Lake Tahoe cross-country skier. With her sisters Vicki and Patty, she travelled to Africa and Europe. A highlight for her was a visit to Zakopane, on the Polish-Czech border, where they met their father’s Polish family for the first time. She and housemate, Phyllis, had a great adventure hitchhiking around Alaska. She joined her best friend, Paul Kelly, in his motorcycle group, The Retreads. She loved their weekend trips into the Sierra Nevada Foothills, along the California coastline, and she soon got her own 1996 Kawasaki 500.
At 62, she was thrilled to retire from University of California. She fulfilled a long-time dream of returning to the West Virginia hills to reconnect with family and friends from high school. She bought a home on a knoll with a beautiful view; but the snow and harsh winters were too isolating and after a year, she returned to northern California.
In 1999, she settled in Eureka, California near the Sequoia Park and Zoo, where she and granddaughter “Carrie Jr.” were often seen enjoying the gardens, playground and animals. She enjoyed being a Redwood Coast tour guide for visiting family and friends. Carrie was active in organizing Relay for Life and fundraisers for the St. Joseph Hospital Volunteers and enjoyed volunteering with the rockhounds of Humboldt Gem & Mineral Society. In Kay Chaffey’s memoir writing class, “Stringing the Pearls,” she became fast friends with the others in the writers’ group: Ina and Noel Harris, Jean Herron and Maggie Shaffer. They continued to meet regularly to share and write their life stories long after the class.
In 2004, her family observed memory loss and confusion. Tests indicated early dementia. She lived independently with frequent visits from Maggie until 2008, when she sold her home and moved into the cottage next to Maggie and Carrie Jr.’s Bayside home. She was warmly welcomed by the daily water aerobics class at Healthsport and the friendly bunch at the Arcata Community Center Senior Lunch Program.
By 2013, she required more care, so family helped her move into a care home near Vicki in Milford, Pennsylvania. Even with dementia, she continued to enjoy music, played her harmonica and formed friendships with her humor. She lived her final years with Vicki’s and son-in-law Mike’s loving care and the warm and dedicated daily attention of caregiver, Georgina Miner.
Carrie was preceded in death by her parents, Joseph Kretoski and Anna Kolvek Kretoski Drost; stepfather, George Drost; her sisters, Helen Sapp and Victoria Cooper; her brothers Joseph Kretoski, Stan Kretoski, Harry Drost, and James Drost; and son-in-law Don Wolski. She is survived by her children and their families: Margaret Ann Gainer and granddaughter Caroline Gainer Wolski; Gordon Hall Gainer, Jr., daughter-in-law Ann Gainer and grandson Daniel Gainer; Patricia Jane Gainer; and Victoria Lynn Brown; son-in-law Michael Brown and grandsons Aaron Brown and Alexander Brown; her sisters Patricia Thorne and Edna Wilson; many nieces and nephews of the Kretoski-Drost Family; and Jane and Ed Schneider and their children, Kim, Kraig, and Kyndal.
Carrie was a hardworking and fun-loving person. Among her many homilies were “Remember to Pay It Forward,” “To Have a Good Friend, You Must Be a Good Friend,” and “Life Is Short, so Go For It.” In lieu of flowers and a formal funeral service, her family asks that you remember Carrie by telling all the stories, being a good friend, paying it forward to help others and enjoying fully the good in life. Ski, motorcycle, play tough in marbles and cards. Dance in the kitchen and sing with your sisters. Gather on her birthday, Sept. 18, to fill up on perogies, cake and pistachio butter pecan ice cream.
If you wish to honor Caroline Gainer with a contribution in her name, donate to one of these organizations: Effie Yeaw Nature Center, 2850 San Lorenzo Way, Carmichael, CA 95821; Humboldt Senior Resource Center, 1910 California St., Eureka CA 95501; Alzheimer’s Association – Humboldt County, CA Walk, P.O. Box 2542, McKinleyville, CA 95519,
Karen Ann Quinlan Hospice, 99 Sparta Avenue, Newton, NJ 07860, or at
She will be deeply missed and always remembered by all that knew her.