“You’re going to be doing the Fallen Soldier 5K, right, Teresa?”
The voice was coming from above me just as I was about to begin an early morning workout in September. I stopped, a couple of steps up from the landing, on my way to the upper level at the Donald S. Spencer Student Recreation Center, tilted my eyes toward the ceiling and saw Judy Yeast, associate director of Western Illinois University’s Campus Recreation. She was smiling down at me over the stairwell railing.
“I don’t really have the knees anymore for running, Judy.”
“You don’t have to run in it, Teresa. You can walk in it, too,” she said. By that point, she was beaming down at me.
While I personally usually try to stay away from distance walking and running events (which aggravate my unfortunate genetically determined arthritic knee condition), a few weeks later, I found myself walking in Western’s Fallen Soldiers 5K Run/Walk.
After the event, I can honestly say I was glad I did it—and I plan to “do” the Fallen Solider 5K Run/Walk again next year, aching knees and all.
Judy has been an integral part of such WIU philanthropic events as the Fallen Soldiers 5K, which is a fundraiser for the Fallen Soldiers’ Scholarship Fund in honor of WIU alumni Capt. Derek Dobogai and Lt. Col. Robert Baldwin, who were killed in the line of duty, as well as the annual University Housing (Thompson Hall) and Campus Recreation breast cancer fundraising Big Pink Volleyball Tournament. The single-elimination Big Pink Volleyball tourney — which began at Western in 2002 and has spread to many campuses and even private-sector companies since — has raised nearly $120,000 at WIU alone to support the breast cancer cause.
“It started because of Judy,” noted WIU alumna Joni Burch (2004), who was part of the very first group of Thompson Hall resident assistants, or the “founding mothers,” involved with Big Pink Volleyball at Western. “When it began at WIU, Judy just had bought this big pink ball for the Student Recreation Center. During our winter training as resident assistants, we were having a social event, and she came up to me and said, ‘You should think of a program to use this ball,'” Burch explained. “We were having a lot of fun playing volleyball with the big pink ball, so, based on Judy’s suggestion, that’s what we decided we would do. Our first tourney was in April that year. We decided we liked it so much, we would hold it in October, too, and make it an annual thing in October for breast cancer awareness,” Burch added.
Although I have only known her since about 2008 (the year I began working at WIU), Judy has truly been an inspiration to me personally. I have had the fortunate circumstance to work with her, as well as run into her, many times on campus over the years. Each time, I can honestly say, I have come away with a positive sentiment or feeling to take me through the rest of the day.
After her 34 years at Western, I can imagine there are many, many people — students, faculty, staff, alumni — who have come into contact with Judy who have similar stories, anecdotes that included them taking part in, or implementing, an activity or idea she suggested.
“I always try to have people see the positive side of things and to stay positive and encourage people to invest in themselves,” she told me, when I recently asked her if she would be interested in being featured as the subject of the Nov./Dec. 2015 “Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) Employee Spotlight,” a blog post the COAP Executive Committee sponsors every month or so.
Recently, I learned Judy has decided to retire, and to honor her dedicated service to Western, there is a reception in her honor from 2-4 p.m. this Thursday (Dec. 17) at the WIU Multicultural Center.
I hope this particular spotlight Q&A post also helps to honor her and her commitment to Western. Below are her answers to some questions I posed to her about her long-held position in WIU’s Campus Recreation.
Q. How did you end up working at Western?
Judy: I did my undergraduate degree at Quincy College (now University) in physical education, grades 6-12. Then I did my student teaching, and I decided I did not want to teach high school students, so I came to Western and got a graduate assistantship in women’s intramurals, and I thought, “This is really fun.” After I graduated, I obtained a teaching position at Monmouth College in their physical education program, and a year later, the position here for the Women’s Intramurals director opened up, and I came back to Western. That’s how I got back here, and I’ve been here since 1981.
Q. What was your graduate degree in?
Judy: My master’s degree was in athletic administration (but now it’s called “sport management“). I came into Western as the director of Women’s Intramurals, and that year, WIU renamed and combined men’s and women’s intramurals into Campus Recreation, and John Colgate became the director of campus recreation. I was assistant director of Campus Recreation, then I moved up to associate director. Then, in 1994-95, when we passed the student referendum for the Student Recreation Center, I served as the interim director for Campus Recreation for a time.
That’s probably the highlight of my career here—to see the passing of the student referendum so that we could build the Student Recreation Center.
Q. What did you use for recreational sports here at WIU before the Student Recreation Center was constructed?
Judy: We had the Brophy Hall gym from 6-10 p.m., and we used Brophy’s room 235 for a fitness studio. Whenever Athletics wasn’t using Western Hall, we would get to use Western Hall from 6-10 at night. We had pools in both spaces, but we only had room 235 for our aerobics classes. We might have two or three aerobics classes per day. Now, we have 49 classes throughout the week, and we have a pool that is open during prime times for students in the Recreation Center.
Q. What does a typical day look like for you these days?
Judy: I don’t have a typical day. Like today, I started off with a blood pressure screening and bone density screening for one of the Employee Wellness Committee’s programs. I’m one of 11 people on that committee. After I get done talking with you this morning, I will go and speak to group of graduate assistants to show them how to write their annual reports for the vice president’s office. This afternoon, I’ll be doing a wrap up meeting with the members of the Big Pink Volleyball committee, and tonight, I’ll go over and visit the art department for their program from 7-9 p.m. There are no typical days in Campus Recreation. But, as you know, working with college students keeps you young. And that is the neat thing about our program and my job—that I get to work with students.
Q. What are some of the best aspects of your job?
Judy: I work with a lot of graduate students, and I love it when I see their individual “light bulbs” go on and I know they have passion that you have to have for the field of recreational sports. Watching them get their first jobs and being successful… and then watching them get those second jobs, and then seeing them move into positions they never thought they were capable of and then being able to tell people, “I got my degree here at Western Illinois University.” That is so rewarding for me.
In general, I love the fact I get to work with lots of students. With Big Pink Volleyball, I get to work with the students in Thompson Hall, because Big Pink is their capstone philanthropic project. Also, I work with students who work on Dodgeball for Diabetes, which is co-sponsored with the National Residence Hall Honorary (NRHH) on our WIU campus.
I have been able to work on a lot of different activities. It has been neat to see the success of the Fallen Soldier’s 5K, which began as a midnight basketball tournament in February 2012 that made $28.03. Who would have ever thought we would have endowed the Fallen Soldiers’ Scholarship Fund only a few years later?
Q. What are some of the most challenging aspects of your job?
Judy: I think that are only 24 hours in a day. Just like everybody else, I need my down time and need to follow the wellness models. I need to work out, I need to take care of myself, I need to eat right and have a balance of work and play in my life.
Q. What do you like to do outside of your job?
Judy: We have three children, and our first grandson lives in Denver, so we enjoy traveling. I also enjoy finishing furniture and woodworking, gardening, and doing athletic type of things to stay active.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote or some go-to advice you like or you like to tell people?
Judy: “If exercise could be packed into a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.” — Robert Butler