In honor of Judy Mahon’s remarkable 45-year journey at Community Living, Inc., we sat down for an insightful interview with Judy herself.
Judy’s story at Community Living, Inc. began before the organization even came into existence. Judy was focused on raising her 4 children at the time and was actively engaged in a variety of volunteer work. While volunteering with a Cub Scouts troop, one of the parents told her about a program that was operating out of a church nearby, and helped people with disabilities. “She told me to stop by sometime and at least just take a look in the window… and I did,” Judy says. Encouraged by the other parent, Judy decided to contact the manager of the program, Marian Lonning. “I didn’t have any background in this field and I thought it was a volunteer job at first,” Judy reminisces. Little did she know that this encounter would turn into working for the Developmental Activity Center full time and shape the course of her career.
Starting as an assistant manager under Marian’s guidance, she quickly realized that she deeply connected with the work and the people. “It didn’t take me long to fall in love,” she says. When Judy and her husband, Floyd, were expecting their 5th child, Judy decided to step away from the program and spend time with family. “I started working there, studying at Lindenwood and taking care of 4 kids. It was really hard,” she says. Judy was always drawn back to the center and her commitment to the cause remained unwavering.
“We knew there were people in the community sitting at home that needed our services. Marian would knock on doors and speak with parents about the day program,” Judy says. As the organization expanded from its humble beginnings to meet the increasing demand for its services, Marian and Judy played an important role in various milestones. Community Living, Inc. was founded in 1978 and the Developmental Activity Center became a part of it, joining together to provide services to more people in the St. Charles area. They continued to fill gaps and meet needs in the community… and just kept growing.
Judy’s husband was connected to the organization as well and helped secure funding so they could provide more innovative services. The program that Marian had started for several children with developmental disabilities, housed in the church, had now developed into to the establishment of dedicated buildings and transportation. 15 people, turned into over 40 by the time they moved out. The programs continued to change and grow over the years with both staff and participants. “I remember when Sheri (Community Living’s now CEO) came to work there as direct support staff, writing programs and working with clients, and Barb (Community Living’s previous CEO) became director of all the day programs.”
One of the most significant turning points in Judy’s career was when she stepped into the role of manager. Although Judy was hesitant to take on the new role, Barb “heavily convinced” her that she was ready for it. “Taking over the position of manager was a good thing because it was probably the first time I was really challenged,” she reflects.
The evolving nature of the organization means that Judy has been a part of many changes over the years. The name of the program has since changed to Support Services for Adults and the activities have evolved too. From crafting projects and outings to the integration of volunteer work and community involvement, Judy’s mission has always remained the same. “We were always trying to make sure the clients had a fun, rewarding day,” she says, “I’m proud of the fact that participants’ lives are enriched by the dignity and care they receive.”
In recognition of Judy’s extraordinary contributions, the organization honored her by naming a center after her—the Judy Mahon Center. “It was kind of awkward to hear the center called ‘Judy Mahon Center,’ but I felt proud; it was a special moment.” Judy developed a close friendship with Marian Lonning throughout their time working together so it was extra special to have the Judy Mahon Center and Marian Lonning Center standing side by side. “I have great respect for Marian Lonning. She’s one of my dear friends and I like the idea that our buildings are together,” Judy says.
Judy retired in 2001 and enjoyed the time traveling with her husband but the center always pulled at her heart. She returned to work full-time and eventually transitioned to part-time as a Direct Support Professional. “I just find it really hard to not be doing something that I feel is meaningful. I love these guys and the staff has always been part of my family too.”
As Judy looks back on her remarkable journey, she offers heartfelt advice to those considering a career at Community Living. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Sometimes you search for it and sometimes it just comes to you without even trying to make it happen. I’m always suggesting to people to try it. You can quickly see and figure out if this job is for you.” The key, according to Judy, is finding joy in your work, and that happiness translates into making others happy as well.
Judy Mahon’s legacy at Community Living, Inc. is one of selflessness, dedication, and tireless advocacy for individuals with disabilities. She truly exemplifies the organization’s commitment to enriching lives and fostering a culture of care and respect. We are beyond grateful for Judy and all of the memories we have collected with her over the past 45 years!
Sheri Wiltse – President and CEO
I started in September 1984 and Judy Mahon trained me to work at the Cave Springs Developmental Activity Center (DAC). Judy and Marian were a wealth of information. We worked together at that Center until I moved into other positions. Some of the best memories I have with Judy were of taking folks camping at Babler State Park and taking them swimming at her pool. On chaotic days, there was Judy just as calm as could be, guiding all of us to end the day on a positive note! Always the eternal optimist! I planned Judy’s first retirement party several years ago but obviously it didn’t “take”! She tried to retire a few times after that again, but just kept coming back. I think our day habilitation program and the people we serve are just in her blood. Her compassion and grace always served as a role model for all staff. She is very pragmatic and just has an inherent knowledge of what needs to be done or what comes next. No one has a bigger heart than Judy Mahon! Community Living is lucky to have had her on our 45 year journey!
Taylor Bumpus – Assistant Director of Support Services for Adults
I had the pleasure of working with Judy for almost 8 years at the Mahon Center. Everyone breathes easier when Judy is around- not only because of her 40+ years of experience in this agency, but because she cares so deeply about everyone around her- whether it be a participant or a staff. It is evident in her interactions with our participants that she genuinely loves what she does and wants the best for every one of them. Her caring and compassionate nature along with her endless amount of patience are truly admirable, and she always has a way to bring everyone back to the agency’s mission and why we are all here. Although she probably doesn’t realize the impact she has around those around her, she made me a better staff and a better manager and I couldn’t be more grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside her.