Windstream CEO Jeff Gardner Steps Right Up To Take St. Vincent Health System’s IV Party to New Heights

When Christine and Jeff Gardner moved from Chicago to Little Rock in 1998, the couple had two young boys and one on the way. Christine was eight months pregnant during the move, and one of the Gardners’ first stops was a visit to St. Vincent Health System, where Christine gave birth to their youngest son, Brock, just two weeks after arriving in Arkansas.

“We hardly knew anyone here and that’s difficult when you’re having a baby,” Christine says. “Jeff’s parents were here to help, but when you’re in the hospital, you need a lot of tender love and care. Emotions are high. Doctor Cindy Frasier and the staff at St. Vincent did such a great job. The nursing care at St. Vincent is the best we’d ever had.”

At the time, the Gardners had made the move to Arkansas after Alltel Corporation purchased the company Jeff worked for in Chicago. He served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of Alltel until 2005, when the company’s wireless and wireline sectors split up. The board of directors asked Jeff to run the new company and by 2006, he was named president and chief executive officer of Windstream Corporation.

“It was a pretty high-stress time in my life,” Jeff recalls. “I remember working late at the office one night, around 7:30 p.m., and I wasn’t feeling well.” Jeff drove straight to St. Vincent that evening, where he found out he would need an emergency appendectomy. “It was right before we went public with the news, and the doctors patched me up in time to go raise the money we needed for Windstream, which was very important to me then. And while they were doing that surgery, they found out I needed another surgery. Plus, as a father of three boys, I’ve made my share of trips to the emergency room, and every time we’ve been to St. Vincent, the care we received was second to none.”

Though Jeff and Christine have their hands full with three sons and 14,000 Windstream employees, they always make time to give back to their community. Jeff serves on the board of directors at Arkansas Children’s Hospital and the auxiliary board of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. A few years ago, the Gardners began attending St. Vincent Foundation’s annual IV Party.

“In a town this size, you get very involved,” Jeff says. “St. Vincent’s been a big part of the community forever. It’s a bedrock to the community and has done so much for so many across the state — including us and many of our employees.” As the Gardners and Windstream became more and more involved with St. Vincent, they made many close, personal ties at the foundation, including President and CEO of St. Vincent Health System, Peter Banko. “We knew all the great things they were doing and when asked to chair IV Party this year, we were happy to do it. When you do a lot of business in the community, it means a lot to be able to give back.”

Credit: Rett Peek

In addition to Jeff and Christine chairing the event, Windstream will serve as presenting sponsor. This year’s IV Party will take place on Saturday, April 26, at 2 St. Vincent Circle on the hospital campus. Just follow the signs. The theme — “It Will Amuse You” — will transform the location into a colorful carnival scene designed by Todd Bagwell of Delaney T. Bagwell Associates. “Never an event to disappoint, guests will be feted in an array of festooned circus-like tents holding the whimsically inspired and tasty delights of YaYa’s Euro Bistro,” says St. Vincent spokeswoman Margaret Preston Dedman. “IV Party is known as Little Rock’s trendiest party, and this year’s band, Play, is a must-see, must-hear group flying in from the West Coast. The entire evening will be filled with fanciful favors and, if you’re lucky, you may even be able to grab the brass ring!”

The atmosphere at IV Party is different from many fundraisers, note the Gardners. “There are no auctions. You aren’t sitting down for dinner,” Christine explains. “Of course, by purchasing a ticket, you’re making a donation that helps St. Vincent in many ways. But mostly, this event is really just an opportunity for the people who support St. Vincent to have a good time.”

Attire is more casual, and guests are encouraged to let loose and have fun. “I see a lot of our friends and business colleagues there,” Jeff says. “We’re inviting all these doctor friends of ours, so you see a great mixture of the business and medical professions having fun and dancing at this event.”

The main event begins at 8 p.m., but those who purchase tickets for the benefactor’s event are treated to special VIP parking, appetizers and special drinks beginning at 6:30 p.m.

“It’s a really fun event,” Jeff says, “but it’s also a chance to learn about all the great things St. Vincent is doing with their Arkansas Neuroscience Institute (ANI), or in the Jack Stephens Heart Institute. They’re doing some really amazing things at that hospital.”

“Funds raised at the IV Party will help enhance nursing and patient care in ANI,” says president and CEO Peter Banko. “One of the best-kept secrets in the state is the ANI at St. Vincent. Dr. Ali Krisht, the leader of ANI and a truly world-renowned neurosurgeon, is rated in the top one percent of neurosurgeons in the United States by Castle Connolly.” Krisht and his team have treated patients from all 75 counties in Arkansas, 34 other states and four other countries. “Often, these are patients that sought treatment elsewhere and are coming to St. Vincent as a last life-saving resort.”

For the Gardners, being involved in the community is something they do for themselves as well as Windstream employees. Jeff and the board of directors at Windstream encourage people in the company to get involved, and hundreds of their employees are active in local organizations. The company has executives on the boards of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Easter Seals and The Nature Conservancy, to name a few, and Windstream chooses to support those organizations corporately as well. “It’s important to me,” Jeff says. “I ask our employees to do it and they don’t just do it, they’re anxious to get started.”

“It’s important for our associates and our company to have a strong presence in the community, so we’ve been very active in Little Rock,” Jeff continues. “Arkansas is the home base of our company and we want to give back to the state that has supported us. Not only do I think it’s the right thing to do and our board is supportive of it, but it makes our employees feel good about our involvement.”

St. Vincent Foundation IV Party

When: 6:30 p.m. benefactor reception;
8 p.m. main event, Saturday, April 26
Where: SVI, 2 St. Vincent Circle
Tickets: $500 patron ticket; $175 general ticket

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