Michelle Lee (Simonson) Gawienowski, 53
Published 3:04 pm Thursday, August 17, 2023
Michelle Lee (Simonson) Gawienowski, age 53, passed away surrounded by her family on August 7, 2023.
Michelle was born in Austin MN, in July 1970 to Kent and Georgiann Simonson.
Daughter, Sister, Friend, Pastor, Wife and Mother, Michelle excelled in surprising and wonderful ways in every role she played. She grew up in Austin, MN, she loved family trips and playing with friends. She graduated from Austin High School in 1988. Michelle worked at HyVee, and was likely the most helpful smile any shift she took. She pierced a bunch of ears working at Claire’s at the mall. Enthusiastic member of the Pom Squad (Be-Aggressive!), Michelle could high kick with the best. She proudly drove the family ‘57 Chevy Bel Air to work and around town, much fun was had with that car. She ended up at Mankato State for college, where her time and experiences with the Lutheran campus ministry led her on a path to become a pastor. Michelle studied at Luther Seminary, and made amazing and enduring friendships while at Sem and beyond. She excelled at hospitality and joyful discovery in getting to know Jesus, Martin Luther and her fellow ministers. She graduated from Luther Seminary with her Masters of Divinity degree and was ordained in 1997 at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Austin, MN.
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As Pastor, Michelle showed her love for God and vibrantly served others. Her first call was to Wahpeton, ND. Connections with people she served continue with love and vitality to this day. Pastor Michelle was next called to serve in Forest City, IA. There she grew with an amazing community there, and in her call as Pastor. In 2003 she was called to serve at Prince of Peace in Burnsville MN. Now in the Twin Cities, she got to preach at her friends Vic and Pete’s wedding. A couple months later, a mutual friend heard Peter give a stewardship appeal at Park Avenue Methodist, which led her to ask if he would be interested in a blind date. That date happened the Friday before Thanksgiving in 2003, and Michelle and Peter got engaged three weeks later. And married three weeks after that. They said it was like Kairos time, and on New Years 2003-04 she married the love of her life. Michelle and Peter built a life together in Burnsville, until she was called to be Senior Pastor at Shepherd of the Hills, and they moved to Shoreview. While there she and Peter were surprised once again by joy, when they adopted Luke. He was born June of 2013, and his parents could not have been more grateful…and overwhelmed! Michelle’s next call was to be a Mom, and the Gawienowski family moved back to Burnsville to be closer to family in Austin.
Michelle served as interim Pastor in congregations across the Twin Cities, and touched each in her own unique way. As she served in various churches, she continued connecting with congregations reflecting love and Good News. Michelle’s sermons continued to stir people, and she loved to visit and connect with people. “Space for God”, by Don Postema, was a book she brought alive in the study and practice of Spirituality and Prayer. As Pastor, Michelle would take those readings and art and music, and she was able to teach and walk with others as they learned to make their own space for God. It’s available on Amazon, it’s worth your time. Michelle also loved the Bible, definitely take time in the Word. She was taken, blessed, broken and given, and now her legacy will live on in people’s hearts.
Michelle loved her family with a passion. Home was so important to her, and whether going on family trips or getting home to Austin, she made it a priority. She would make sure to do dishes or slip away with her Dad so they could check in, and they would talk over and pray about the concerns and hopes and wonderings of the day. Kent and Michelle had a particular Father-Daughter bond that was dear to them both. Her Mom and Dad gave her the foundation, and ongoing support, that made her the exceptional woman she was.
Michelle enjoyed the Gear Daddies (Thanks Martin Zellar, good luck with the new album), Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, Johnny Cash, Diana Krall, Lake Street Dive, Chris Isaak, Taize and a bunch of music from the Claire’s soundtrack and early MTV. Radio Heartland was a regular listen in the kitchen and the car. Like the Tom Petty song, she was good, she really loved her mother, she loved Jesus, and America too. Or as Billy Joel sang, She’s got a way about her, don’t know what it is…She’s got a light around her, and everywhere she goes a million dreams of love surround her…everywhere.
Michelle was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma in December 2020, which she fought these last years with grace and humor and so much help. It was that cancer that finally became too much, and took her life. Get your eyes dilated and checked carefully, it matters. You can find more of that story on her CaringBridge site.
Michelle was preceded in death by her daughter Abigail, stillborn in 2006. Her grandparents George and Gladys Ewoldt and Kenneth and Dorothy Simonson. Also grandparents Clotilda and Anthony Gawienowski, Sr. She is survived by her husband Peter and son Luke Gawienowski in Burnsville, MN. Her parents, Kent and Georgiann Simonson and her sister Terri Simonson in Austin, MN. Sister/brother in law Margaret and DP Briskin, cousin Chloe Briskin and brother in law Tony Gawienowski in Champaign IL, sister in law Mary Gawienowski in Huntington Park IL, and brother in law Fr. John Gawienowski in Massachusetts. Uncle Chuck and Aunt Karen Stern of Willmar, MN, and a bunch of terrific cousins. And so many dear friends, dear dear friends. Friendship meant a lot to Michelle.
Memorials or gifts for her son Luke’s ongoing care can be made out to Peter Gawienowski with memo “Luke’s Care”, can be sent to Christus Victor Church, or to Venmo or Zelle links on her CaringBridge site (go to www.caringbridge.com and enter your email, or download the app, and search for Michelle Gawienowski).
Michelle’s Celebration of Life and Resurrection is Saturday September 2, at Christus Victor Lutheran Church, 7510 Palomino Dr, Apple Valley MN 55124. Phone (952) 454-6927
Bright colors welcome, black’s good too, but it IS a celebration after all. Tears welcome.
If it gets crowded, people might need to move up front, and we’ll have overflow…anyway, it’ll be a treat to be together and celebrate Michelle’s joyful, surprising, loving, faithful and blessed life.
Luncheon at the church to follow, the church basement ladies are working hard to make sure there are enough bars and treats for all.
The service will be live streamed and recorded, through the Christus Victor Facebook page. You do not need to be signed in or have an account to watch the service on Facebook. www.christusvictor.org
Worlein Funeral Home of Austin is assisting the family with arrangements. Condolences may be expressed to the family online at www.worlein.com.