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Her energy served her well as a teacher and former junior high principal. Judy started her career as a teacher, then administrator, and is retiring as curriculum specialist for Mariemont City Schools.
Eleven years ago, this cheerful educator and her husband’s lives were forever changed when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Unsurprisingly, the sunshine girl and her equally determined husband Jerry spent his last months as advocates for others suffering from the same illness.
“He was very positive the whole time,” Judy said. “And being an engineer came into play – he was always three months ahead of the disease. The day he needed a cane, he ordered his scooter. When he used the scooter, he ordered his wheelchair.”
Judy recalls that they were fortunate. Friends and family rallied around them. They had “good jobs, great insurance benefits and financial security.” As they met others fighting the disease, they saw how the disease took a toll on families, both financially and emotionally. “We were dealt a terrible loss, but were lucky with the way we got to deal with it,” she said. “We had the privilege of focusing on making Jerry’s final days comfortable and filled with family and friends.”
Judy explains that the ALS Association assists patients with medical equipment, communication devices, and emotional support.
“That is why that association continues to be one of the primary targets of my planned giving program,” she said. Judy remained active in the ALS organization after Jerry’s death nine years ago. She eventually took a break from it – “it got too hard” – but she’s returning as chair of its local advocacy group. She also volunteers with The First Tee, a nonprofit organization based around golf that teaches children character and values through the game.
A Columbus, Ohio native, Judy says she was raised in a household where you give back of your time and skills. “My dad, a retired firefighter, is the kindest and most giving person I’ve ever known,” she said. “He and my mother were sensitive to the needs of others and willing to offer their time and talents as needed.” Herdad, at 82, still volunteers twice a week at the food bank her brother manages.
Judy recently opened a donor advised fund at GCF.
“I’m pleased with my fund because it’s easy to manage, to monitor,” she said.
“Just by talking to the people at GCF, you get ideas about how to give. I’m just a regular person and this is a great way for regular people to keep track of their charitable dollars,” she added.
Judy remains close to Jerry’s adult sons, Scott and Joe, and often travels with them. She’s looking forward to an upcoming vacation that involves hiking, kayaking and horseback riding. She claims she’s not talented in any of these pastimes but is up to the challenge.
What would you expect from a woman nicknamed sunshine?
Printed in the 2010 Annual Report
This “child” was a beloved poet and inspirational writer who passed away at age 81 in 1981.
Andrea and Ginny’s father, former Cincinnati Mayor Eugene Ruehlmann, was Helen’s attorney.
Helen wanted to leave a legacy that would help the elderly and needy, so Ruehlmann helped her establish The Helen Steiner Rice (HSR) Foundation.
Helen herself had experienced personal struggles. As a young woman, she gave up school to care for her sister and mother when her father died.
Later, her husband committed suicide after the 1929 stock market crashed. She persevered, turning her thoughts into beautiful verse and was known as the “ambassador of sunshine” at her employer, Gibson Art Company.
After Helen’s death, Andrea and Ginny’s mother Virginia Ruehlmann went through her papers and unpublished poetry. Inspired by her findings, an agreement was made with Gibson that enabled HSR Foundation to publish the work. Income raised from these efforts was added to the foundation.
“The combination of Mom’s efforts and a burgeoning stock market gave them a nice corpus to work with,” said Ginny, co-author of Helen Steiner Rice Ambassador of Sunshine. “The foundation grew from $1 million to $12 million.”
Andrea became the foundation’s administrator. As the years passed, the work grew and the Ruehlmanns were aging as were the foundation’s other trustees.
“Good stewardship demanded that changes be made,” said Ginny. “One of those was to turn over the original work to the Cincinnati Museum Center. Another part of good stewardship was to partner with GCF.”
Ten years ago, HSR Foundation became a donor advised fund of The Greater Cincinnati Foundation with the trustees as fund advisors. A longstanding plan resulted in the recent transition to a field of interest fund at GCF, with a forever focus on the areas Helen cared about most.
Since working with GCF, $4.5 million in grants have been made that support Rice’s legacy. This includes a yearly gift to the Community Foundation of Lorain County, benefiting Helen’s hometown.
Both women believe that Helen and their parents would be happy with the legacy created.
“GCF has been a fantastic steward of the fund, of Helen, and of our parents,” said Andrea.
Happily, the good works of the ambassador of sunshine and her champions will shine forever.
In my eyes there lies no vision
but the sight of your dear face,
In my heart there is no feeling
but the warmth of your embrace.
All my dreams are built around you,
and I’ve come to know it’s true
In my life there is no living
that is not a part of you.
Used with permission of Helen Steiner Rice Foundation Fund, LLC
© 1985 Helen Steiner Rice Foundation Fund, LLC
A wholly owned subsidiary of Cincinnati Museum Center
720 E. Pete Rose Way,
Cincinnati, OH 45202
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