Chamber award for Lifetime Achievement: Judy Christopher

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 September 2013 at 12:00 am

Kenmore native embraced rural community, running businesses and giving to community causes

Judy Christopher is pictured with her husband Gene and their sons David, left, and Darrick.

ALBION – In 1984, the Christopher family bought a marina at Point Breeze. With her husband often away for a job as an executive for TAD Staffing, Judy Christopher did most of the work at the business, connecting with customers and trouble-shooting when there were problems that needed to be solved.

“There was nothing she wouldn’t do,” said her husband of 47 years, Gene. “She pretty much ran the marina without me.”

Five years after buying Four C’s Marina, the family opened Phoenix Fitness in downtown Albion. Mrs. Christopher started the health club after a cardiac rehab site closed down in Albion. When the center needed a certified trainer, Christopher earned those credentials while she was in her 50s.

When members of the gym needed a fitness goal, she started 5k and 8k races at the Strawberry Festival, wanting to promote wellness in the community.

Christopher organized the races for two decades. One year, the DOT closed the canal bridge on Butts Road, which was part of the race route. Christopher wanted the bridge open for runners. She was told no by the DOT. But she wouldn’t accept that. The bridge was open during the race.

‘She always found time to get things done. I don’t know how she did it.’ – Gene Christopher, speaking about his wife

“She was tenacious, but she was gentle about it. She did it with a smile,” Mr. Christopher said about his wife, who died from cancer at age 70 on Aug. 3.

The Orleans County Chamber of Commerce honored Mrs. Christopher with a Lifetime Achievement Award during a banquet on Sept. 14. Wendy Hinkley, branch manager for Five Star in Albion, told the crowd that Christopher was a community cheerleader with lots of “spunk and passion.”

Judy Christopher

Gene met Judy while they were college students at Canton Ag and Technical College in northern New York. Gene was studying machine and tool design. Judy earned a degree in business. Gene was a country boy from Albion. Judy grew up in Kenmore.

“She lived in the city,” Gene said. “She didn’t know a maple tree from a willow tree or a herd of cattle from a flock of cattle.”

They fell in love, married and raised two sons, Darrick and David. When the husband and wife looked for a home, Gene pushed for Albion. Judy was game for the adventure and soon planted a big garden.

When the couple went out to dinner in the early years of their marriage, Gene noticed that his wife knew more Albionites than he did, despite his roots in the community.

“She loved the village of Albion,” Gene said. “She liked Small Town USA.”

Judy was the first woman elected to serve on the Albion Town Board. She was a long-time member of the Albion Rotary Club and served on the Swan Library Board of Trustees.

The Rotary Club runs a fishing derby for about two weeks every August. Christopher was one of the key leaders of the derby, and sold many of the ads in the derby program. Even when she was very sick from cancer this spring and summer, Judy called local businesses, selling ads for the derby.

“She did all of her derby work while she was as a sick as a dog,” Gene said.

When Gene was away on business trips for TAD, he often returned home to an 1835 farmhouse that was undergoing a remodeling effort begun by his wife. Judy had her own tool box and reglazed windows, tackled woodwork, painted walls and took on other projects. She made the drapes in the house. She hung all of the wallpaper. Gene just marveled at her.

“She always found time to get things done,” he said. “I don’t know how she did it.”

Judy often told her husband and family to not feel overwhelmed with daunting challenges, including her bouts with cancer.

“She had a saying, ‘You eat an elephant one bite at a time,’” Gene said. “That is how she got through things.”

The Christopher family will be participating in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk on Oct. 20 at Watt Farms in Albion. The event has raised $225,000 the past seven years to fund research and provide services for people with cancer.