Judith Schwenk

July 23, 1942 ~ April 12, 2023 (age 80) 80 Years Old

Judith Schwenk Obituary


Judith Gilman Schwenk passed away in April, 2023, after 80 years of what she termed a wonderful life.  From her childhood years in Pompton Lakes, NJ to her final days, she showed her family's trademark combination of intense determination, talent, pragmatism, humor, and caring.  Her dear friend from elementary school remembers Judy teaching her to ride a bicycle so they could speed around the neighborhood.  Speed became essential as Judy juggled schoolwork, editing the school newspaper, and getting supper ready before her parents got home from work.  She later laughed with her daughters when she taught them how to brown ground beef that you forgot to thaw, and she rejoiced with their freedom to bike to school in pants and to join school sports teams. 


Judy taught in several US cities and in Hong Kong, making connections wherever she went, eager to experience the world while staying devoted to her family.  Her modus operandi was to attempt more than was reasonably possible and do it well.  She strengthened each group she was part of, always with an eye to including those who had been left out.  As a student teacher at Wilberforce, an HBCU near Antioch, she helped students organize to serve as Freedom Riders.  As a young mom in suburban Boston, she not only supported her kids' schools' joining a voluntary busing system but also helped make sure host families, including hers, were lined up so that each child making the long bus trip had a connection in town. 


Judy always appreciated the support of her first husband, Al, in her career change, taking her planning and systems analysis talents beyond the PTA and getting a degree from MIT's Sloan School of Management.  She never stopped teaching, making dinner conversation about correlation, causality, and labor negotiations, often folding in lessons from her parents' experiences.  One of Anne's college friends still gratefully recalls Judy insisting on teaching her to use a spreadsheet program on a Spring Break visit.  Judy's hunger to learn never stopped, either, not only editing but synthesizing the principles behind the science proposals whose review she and her second husband, Carl, coordinated.  She used what she learned about his Anabaptist ancestors to add to her store of Pennsylvania knowledge that would later entrance her granddaughters, and she reveled in learning more about the music he and his family loved so much.  She loved delving into historical society records and talking with carpenters and designers as she and Carl restored a house in Bath, Maine.  Even through the pressures of Carl's illness, Judy kept joy and fun in their retirement years, and even learned enough about Maine's Somali Bantu community to contribute a lesson plan for her daughter's cultural psychology class.

From listening to her parents' nightly prayers to finding miracles happening to her and her fellow volunteers in an interfaith group helping Cambodian refugees, Judy's spirituality was at the center of all she did.  She held a deep respect for the dignity of every human being, and she always emphasized how much she was learning from those she helped.  She cared about her children's spiritual growth, fostering it without dictating.  She took their faith journeys seriously and also enjoyed a hearty laugh when one of the girls insisted on receiving a wafer in toddler tones, "my Chwist!", from the priest who didn't think children could understand the importance of Communion.  She welcomed one daughter's conversion to Judaism and followed in the other's footsteps to become an active part of the Society for the Companions of the Holy Cross.  (Apparently the following more typically goes the other way!) 

Judy died as she lived, facing her terminal cancer diagnosis with faith and courage, as concerned about those she was leaving behind as she was about herself.  She helped sponsor the education of a young man in Cambodia; he wrote: "Her legacy will forever be in my heart, reminding me to live with empathy, embrace opportunities to make a difference, and love unconditionally."  


Judy was proud to have once met the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  In numerous sermons, he stated that life's most urgent question is to ask: "What are you doing for others?"

Judy’s life was an eloquent answer to Dr. King’s question.

She will be missed.

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