She came to South Whidbey in 1977, leaving a life behind her in Seattle that had been shattered by the death of a child, drug addiction and broken dreams. As Judy Thorslund says, “I spent the next 4 years here on South Whidbey finding the bottom of a bottle. Thankfully in 1982 I had a very powerful turn-around point in my life.”
And friends say that turn-around was more than successful.
“Judy deserves this Hometown Hero award,” says Ann St. John, wife of Thorslund’s first husband Richard, because of all she gives. “I have known Judy for over 40 years. I have seen her at bad times as well as good.”
St. John said Thorslund fought through addictions and in the end has used all the knowledge she’s learned to help other people. She went back to school, and received multiple degrees, which she uses to further help others.
“I know she regrets she was not always there for her wonderful sons,” she said.
St. John remarks, however, that since 1982 Thorslund’s whole life has been about making amends to her sons, making amends to anyone she knows she’s disappointed, and to helping wherever she can.
“Making amends is way different than merely saying I’m sorry; mere words are too dang easy,” Thorslund said. “Amends are made by not repeating the same harmful actions again, to that person or to others.”
Thorslund said she atones by doing the right kind of actions.
“We cannot always make up to the person we hurt, but we can treat everyone else kinder, and in the future if we mess up, admit it and make it right,” she said.
Her small apartment sparkles with cleanliness and order; personal photos of family and friend and treasures neatly decorate her walls. In between volunteering full time at the Good Cheer Distribution Center, the HUB, and serving as Chairperson of the newly formed South Whidbey Homeless Coalition, she says, “I ‘clean toilets’ and also get to hang out with some really cool dogs to supplement my social security,” with a boisterous, entertaining and robust laugh. She does it often, and hearing it is a part of being around her.
Thorslund says she is still working on herself: “Someone told me recently I arrive into a room two hours before I literally get there.”
With a scrunched and horrified face, she says “A close friend last month confided in me that my bounding energy can be a bit irritating and intimidating at times. Help.”
“I want to tame my energy,” she said. “I feel such freedom to be out there, but I don’t want to be blasting myself. So I am working on containing myself some, be more oh … I don’t know exactly, but I’m working on it.”
Thorslund wants to be more like her favorite musician, Bob Marley, and his song and scripture verse, “may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight.”
Thinking of her past before 1982, she says, “I rebelled and stayed self-centered for way too many years, rather than trying to make this world a better place. I have been given the opportunity and grace to find answers to those questions we all have asked at one time or another. Why am I here? What is my purpose?”
“I am a grateful woman, for my sons’ love, and my second chance to make amends for my self-centered years,” she said. “I was not always there for my children because of my addictions. My middle son, Roddy, passed away from cystic fibrosis at age 3.”
Pausing from the interview, Thorslund gets up to take down a framed wall collage of photos she had made of Roddy. She gazes at the photos, and says, “My third son I named Seth, which translated from Hebrew means ‘to compensate for.’”
Her son, Seth Thorslund, writes, “As long as I can remember my Ma has been doing for others in the most selfless and graceful manner, and I am not just saying that because she birthed me. She has dedicated her life to serving others and I can only hope and pray I am able to find and utilize that spirit of service within myself. My Ma is my hero.”
In 1986, Judy Yeakel and Thorslund founded Genesis house on South Whidbey to help battered women and their children. Yeakel bought the house and Thorslund managed it. It was a house of hospitality.
Thorslund says Yeakel was a mentor and dear friend of hers, and introduced her to Dorothy Day’s philosophy, which focuses on the dignity of every human being.
“With both Judy Yeakel and Dorothy Day as mentors, it only made sense to me that one of our missions on this planet is to serve the poor,” Thorslund said.
In 2000 when her youngest son graduated and moved away, she relocated to Rochester, New York, and volunteered for 10 years at the Catholic Worker House of hospitality.
“It was fulfilling to volunteer full time, feeding the poor and homeless, and rehabbing abandoned houses and creating homes for those without shelter,” she said.
Thorslund loved it with all her heart, but in 2010 felt a strong pull to return to South Whidbey. Judy believes now that the reason she felt compelled to return ‘home’ was to join the recently formed coalition to end homelessness.
“I get teary eyed when I think back [to] when I was in a very abusive relationship,” says Trina Sanders, a former resident of the house. “It was a difficult decision to leave the relationship, because I had no money, no car, no job, and no home to go to. All I knew was I had to get away and keep my two small children safe.”
For Sanders, it seemed like a fairy tale dream at the time, and she almost gave up, but instead got connected to Thorslund and Genesis House.
“She was our angel; she helped me find work, regain confidence, trust, hope, a job, and helped me get on my feet,” Sanders said. “I honestly don’t know what I and my two young boys would have done without Judy and the house of hospitality at Genesis House.”
Genesis House is no longer around, but there are other places on South Whidbey for the homeless, Thorslund said.
“The Calvary Church here, bless them, has a small place for homeless — a family at a time — but we need more space,” she said. “We need more options, and our coalition will find those options.”
“Everyone deserves warm shelter, food and love,” said Thorslund, as she stands up with her arms outstretched. “Just as I am so very blessed to have here with my apartment.”
Maureen Murphy, owner of Bayview Farm & Garden, has known Thorslund for 30 years and says she has a heart for people who are economically disadvantaged, people struggling with drug/alcohol issues, homeless youth and anyone who is just down on their luck.
“She is a champion for justice and has a heart bigger than the moon,” Murphy said. “Judy has given her life to her work of advocating for the underside of society, whoever that may be. Judy is the real deal. If there was ever an example of a person pouring out their life for others, and making amends to all, it is Judy Thorslund.”