Judith Ann (Freeman) Rodel. Submitted photo
Judith Ann (Freeman) Rodel. Submitted photo

Judy Rodel left this world on August 23, 2018, suddenly and unexpectedly, and she left it a better place than it was when she entered it.  Judy’s life was dedicated, in her husband’s words, to lifting people up – helping and supporting them in any effort to improve their lives, in every way possible, and she took great joy in doing just that.

Judy was born to Dr. Donald W. and Mrs. Helen P. (Lambe) Freeman in Dearborn, Michigan, but grew up in Minneapolis, graduating from Washburn High School in 1961.  She then attended the University of Minnesota, where she studied to be a social worker.  While at “The U,” she met Donald Robert Rodel, of Bird Island, MN, and they married shortly after graduation, on June 19, 1965.  Don and Judy spent 55 happy years together, 53 of them in marriage, raising three children and delighting in six grandchildren.  Judy and Don have been residents of St. Paul for the past six years, having been previous residents of Minneapolis.

Her 75 years were spent elevating people: from doing social work in the Twin Cities to raising her children; from being the village librarian in Woodville, WI for 15 years to owning Downtown Books in Hudson, WI; from sponsoring needy children in Taiwan and on Native American reservations to teaching English to immigrants, beginning in the mid-1970s with Laotian refugees and - continuing right up until her passing - at the Hubbs Center for Lifelong Learning in St. Paul, where she was recognized with an award from the Minnesota Literacy Council.  At age 73, Judy volunteered to go to Guatemala with Habitat for Humanity, where she learned more about concrete rebar and well-digging and home construction than she ever thought she would.  Judy was a proud supporter of, among other worthy organizations: Catholic Relief, Catholic Charities in St. Paul, Doctors Without Borders, The American Refugee Committee, and Red Cloud Indian School of Pine Ridge, SD.  In a spirit of giving that continues after her passing, Judy directed that her remains be donated to the University of Minnesota Medical School for organ donation and research, where she continues to help people even after her own life has ended.

Judy’s passion for learning was also evidenced by her earning of a Master’s Degree in Liberal Studies from Hamline University in 1999, which she pursued simply because she was interested and wanted to know more; by her teaching, along with Don, of religious education at Immaculate Conception Parish in Hammond, WI; and her book club, of which she was a founding member in October of 1979, remained active for nearly 40 years, and which continues today.  An enthusiastic political activist and debater, she was keen to discuss the issues of the day with anyone, whether or not the other person agreed with her.  She taught her children to think critically and carefully and to discuss vigorously, but never angrily.

Judy and Don were best friends as well as spouses, parents, grandparents, and business partners.  One of their favorite shared activities was travel, which they did on more occasions than anyone has been able to count, and they loved traveling together, no matter if the journey was long or short – from a quick weekend trip to the North Shore to a month in Australia, to a dozen or more trips to Europe and so much more.  Both of them took every opportunity to learn as much as possible about the people and places they visited and were always eager to share their new-found knowledge and appreciation with everyone.  When not traveling afar, Judy loved to travel to all the activities her grandchildren were involved in – music, theatre, sports (where she was often the loudest cheerleader), Grandparents’ Day, and more, or taking them to museums, plays, and other cultural outings, and sometimes simply reading to them, playing Kings in the Corners, watching a movie, baking bread or just enjoying their company, seeing each child and grandchild as a unique person with unique talents and tastes.

Judy is survived by Don, her husband of 53 years; by her three children, Christopher (Kimberly) Rodel, of Sun Prairie, WI; Jennifer (James) Peterson, of Minneapolis; and Anna (Jason) Gough, of Woodville, WI; also by her grandchildren, Duane Rodel, Kristina Rodel (Eric) Sorum, Casey Peterson, and Riley, Calvin and George Gough.  Her surviving siblings are Mary (Michael Davis) Freeman, James Freeman, Michael (Barbara) Freeman and Laurel (William Rice) Freeman.  She was preceded in passing by her parents, Donald and Helen, and her youngest brother, John (Patrice Bass) Freeman.

A celebration of life will be held by close family and friends.  In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to a charity of your choice.