By Stephanie Klett and Bill Barth
Carolyn Gable’s life story is a testament to the power of hope.
And she’s all about sharing the spirit.
We met Carolyn at Inspired Coffee a few days back to chat about her latest project, building what she calls the Expect a Miracle path on property she owns along the Geneva Lake walking trail. To get there walkers can pick up the path by the Geneva Inn and proceed west toward Fontana. It’s not far and it’s a beautiful stroll. The reward includes not only the lovely views but also the inspiring experience awaiting at Carolyn’s property.
But first, get to know a little about the lady who created it.
“I was 23 years old, a single mom,” she told us. “Back then, in 1972, there was a lot of shame in being a single mom. There wasn’t a lot of support. I got a job downtown (Chicago) as a secretary to the president (of the company). I hated it. I had to take my little guy to the babysitter, get a train. It was a nightmare. I think I was making $120 a week and $35 went to the babysitter. There was no money.” Obviously, we didn’t know Carolyn then. Judging from the energetic, determined personality in front of us, though, it isn’t hard to imagine her determination to find another way forward.
Which turned out to be waitressing. A friend who worked at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare told her about an opening to wait tables.
“The first night I made $250,” Carolyn said, with a broad smile that leaves no doubt she’s proud of the job and where it helped take her. The 15 years she spent serving others prepared her for what came next.
“I learned how to deal with every personality known to man,” she said. “I waited on them. When you wait on somebody, that's your livelihood. You need to learn how to make them happy because that’s how you get paid.”
Still, Carolyn recognized the future she envisioned would take more than serving food and drinks for the rest of her life. With no college education and relatively limited experience, she worked with an employment agency eventually landing a job with a trucking company.
“We’ll never put you in sales,” she says the boss told her at the outset. “Nobody will ever put you in sales, but we can get you customer service.” Long story short, the boss was wrong. Bigger money, she saw, came with sales and she pressed her case until higher-ups gave her a shot. Carolyn was a natural and credits her waitressing days, learning about making connections and building relationships. She was a top salesperson, earning more money than she thought possible.
The skills and contacts she made led to the next move – taking a risk and starting her own freight company. New Age Transportation was founded in 1989 and became a multi-million dollar company over 30 years, affording Carolyn a lifestyle she’d only imagined. In 2007 she bought a 15,000-square-foot home on Geneva Lake near the downtown. Wanting to share her good fortune and the rags-to-riches possibilities of her experiences, she built the first Expect a Miracle path by the lakefront. The property featured inspirational quotes and sayings painted on a fence where walkers could pause and reflect, a guest book for people to sign and leave their own messages, and a bell to ring symbolizing they could “Expect a Miracle.” Carolyn owned the property for 10 years, until 2017. Over that time more than 50,000 people signed the guest book and rang the bell.
“It just touched everybody’s spirit,” she said.
When she sold that house and sold her company in 2018, she wanted to open another chapter in her life. First, she moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. Later, she rented a place on the beach in Malibu, California with A-list celebrities as neighbors.
But when the coronavirus pandemic locked down America, Carolyn said something seemed to be pulling her back to Lake Geneva. Five years after selling her Lake Geneva home – and after the first Expect a Miracle fence had been painted over – she purchased the current site and began planning to recreate the inspirational path. The finishing touches are nearing completion and the new Expect a Miracle path awaits walkers. It’s a beauty, with inspirational messages and the opportunity again for walkers to pause, reflect, leave their own words and ring the Miracle bell.
Carolyn also runs her Expect a Miracle Foundation and the Carolyn Gable Foundation, aimed at providing help and motivation for others.
“A lot of people are really struggling right now. I don’t know how single moms do it. I don’t know how people can pay two or three times for gas,” she said. “The fairy godmother is not coming. How are they going to make it? We figure it out, that’s the great thing about people. But we need hope. Everybody on this planet can manifest a miracle.”
When Carolyn bought the current property she intended to rehabilitate the existing home but architects and builders told her it was too far gone and needed to come down. The building has been demolished and materials recycled. The property is listed for sale. Carolyn says she doesn’t really know what’s next. But she spent a substantial five-figure sum to build the Expect a Miracle path anyway.
“If somebody buys it I just hope they would feel the same way I do,” she said. “That this is beautiful.”
We share that hope, and salute Carolyn Gable for welcoming walkers and inspiring thousands at her first and, now, second property.
“We all need to be uplifted. We all need to be shown some love and kindness,” she told us.
Indeed we do.
Stephanie Klett is the President and CEO of Visit Lake Geneva, and the former Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. Bill Barth is the former Editor of the Beloit Daily News, and a member of the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame.