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Gardner was born Sarah Dyke on October 30, 1960 in Middleton, Wisconsin, and is the daughter of former Madison, WI Mayor, William Dyke. She graduated from University of Wisconsin in 1982 while working as a DJ playing country music.
She later went to work in TV as a weekend weather anchor and writer/ producer at WMTV NBC 15 in Madison, Wisconsin. She later moved to Charlotte, North Carolina as an evening news anchor for WBTV. In 1993, she was hired for an anchor position at KCRA, where she co-anchored with Kelly Brothers, John Alston and Chris Riva during her time there. She now[when?] hosts a show on PBS called "America's Heartland" and is doing other freelance voice-over work.
She is married to Chuck Gardner, a housing contractor. The couple have two children, Ginny and Chas. Their son has been diagnosed with autism.[dead link] She and her husband helped co-found the M.I.N.D. Institute at UC Davis Medical Center.