Phillip Ray Gaustad

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MIDDLETON–¬Phillip Ray Gaustad, 86, of Middleton, passed away on May 3, 2022, due to compromised health derived from cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and dementia. 

Phil was born on May 5, 1935, to parents Alton (Archie) Gaustad and Faye Wiggins (Amundson) in La Crosse. He attended Central High School and dropped out in his senior year at the age of 17, just short of graduation, to enlist in the US Air Force and serve in the Korean War. Phil spent most of his tour stationed in Japan and worked on cryptography and reading intelligence messages relayed on paper tape. 

After his tour of duty, Phil returned home and attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with the assistance of the GI Bill. It was at UW-La Crosse where Phil put his passion for writing to use as the editor of the school newspaper as he majored in both English and French. Upon graduating from UW-La Crosse, Phil took the Civil Service Exam and tested out in the highest percentile. He was promptly offered a job as a Civil Service Investigator working for the Federal government. It was during his college years that Phil married Leslie Holthaus on Sept, 6, 1958. They eventually had two sons, Jon and Jim, before that marriage ended.

Phil chose to leave the Federal Investigator position and tried a few professions which didn't work out and gravitated toward bar tending and bar management. It was during this period that Phil married Barbara Kessenich (Gosling) on September 14, 1976. They remained married up until Phil's passing. A period lasting nearly 46 years! But as we skip back, there's more to the career story... 

While working at Casino Lanes in Madison, he was offered a general manager position for a new bowling alley named Bowling Green located in Middleton. Phil managed the Bowling Green from approximately 1978-1991. Throughout those years Phil's sons, Jon and Jim, and his stepchildren, Dan, Mike and Kerry Kessenich, all worked at the Bowling Green at various points in their young lives. In addition, Phil's brothers, Pete and Paul, also worked at the lanes and the softball complex which was added later. The Bowling Green Recreational Complex became a popular spot for the Middleton area and was in many ways like a family business for the Gaustad and Kessenich family names. 

Phillip's passion for golf was apparent to everyone who knew him. He played in club events, local tournaments, state tournaments and friendly money games with his regular player groups. In his prime, he was well-known in the Madison area for being a formidable contender in any event he played in. Phil almost never played golf without betting a little money. Over the course of his golfing life, he won more wagers than he lost. At Cherokee Country Club, one of Phil's regular opponents nicknamed him Harvey Hustlemoney. Some golfers at the club would call him “Harv” instead of Phil. Maybe the biggest legacy he left was teaching golf to generations of family members, friends and fellow players. Phil knew the golf swing and knew how to get a person to “feel it” when they hit a ball. His legacy will live in the golf swings of more people than we can fathom.

So, about Phil's writing...He wrote several novels and even published a couple: “Carlocito” and “The Ordnance.” Carlocito was a short story about a tomcat who makes a break for it when he discovers what his owners have in mind for his “tom-cathood.” “The Ordnance” is fictional, but largely based on Phil's growing up in La Crosse in a housing project which had been a former Army barracks. It's a gritty story of a childhood spent in poverty as a victim and a witness to child abuse. But ultimately, “The Ordnance” is a story of young love and hope and close friendships and loyalties which last a lifetime.

Phillip was a critical thinker who challenged many conventional viewpoints. He often had philosophical discussions with friends and family members. Much could be gleaned from his explanations and his rationales for difficult and deep subjects. Phil often took a contrarian position that would be upsetting to his audience. Those that knew him well might say he liked to pick little fights once in a while. Those occasional disagreements would always end amicably. 

For all of those that Phil loved, and there were many, all of us knew it with certainty. He had a way of letting you know what you meant to him. All of you can hold onto those moments when he shared something with you.

Phillip was preceded in death by his parents, Alton (Archie) Gaustad and Faye Wiggins (Amundson); and Jesse Kessenich, a grandchild who perished in a car accident. 

He is survived by his wife, Barbara Gaustad; sons, James Gaustad and wife, Kristine, and Jon Gaustad;

step-children, Daniel Kessenich and wife, Marijo, Kerry Thibodeaux and husband, Jack, and Michael Kessenich and wife, Beth; siblings, Patricia Gilbertson, Paul Gaustad and wife, Julie, and Peter Gaustad and wife, Karen; 12 grandchildren, Ava Gaustad, Jesse Kessenich (deceased), Matt Kessenich, Randy Kessenich, Samual Kessenich, John Kessenich, Anna Kessenich, Katy Leist, Rony Leist, Jayme Little, Kelly Obermeier, and Kayla Manzoeillo (expecting another grandchild); six great-grandchildren, Jaydah Deluke, Jaclyn Benefield, Oakley Leist, Jax Leist, Mia Obermeier and Alyssa Obermeier; one great-great-grandchild, Ryan Sweeney; and beloved nieces and nephews. 

Visitation will be held at Gunderson West Funeral and Cremation Care, 7435 University Ave., Middleton, from 1-3 p.m. on May 14, 2022. A memorial service for Phillip will be held at the funeral home at 3 p.m. on Saturday, followed by Military Honors and a luncheon. Burial will be private.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made for a veterans' memorial stone for Phil at Lakeview Park in Middleton. Online condolences may be made at gundersonfh.com.

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