"For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline." - 2 Timothy 1:7
Such powerful words, written in black ink on a pink Post-It note, made up the foundation of the kind of person Judy Vincenzo was. A devoted daughter, wife, mother, grandmother and friend, she spent her entire life taking care of others. She was strongly spiritual and deeply rooted in her faith, and she had this Post-It note, along with several others, attached to a list - a list that she'd kept private until her niece, Karen Norman, accidentally discovered it a few weeks before Judy's death.
Judy Vincenzo lived in Flushing and worked as a nurse at Harrison Community Hospital. She also worked as a playground aide at Flushing Elementary. Those who knew her remember her as someone who always wore a smile and genuinely cared about others. In 1995, almost a month after her father passed away, Judy, only in her early 40s, was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes. After undergoing extensive treatments in Morgantown, including chemotherapy, radiation, a mastectomy and even a bone marrow transplant, Judy enjoyed a period of 15 years cancer free. However, in September 2009, she relapsed, as the cancer had metastasized to her bones and back. She battled for three more years but lost the battle this August.
T-L Photo/SHAUNNA DUNDER HERSHBERGER
Members of the newly-formed Judy Vincenzo Foundation take a break from dinner at Lator Gator in Wheeling. Pictured front row, from left: Rhonda Senakievich, board member; Karen Norman, president; Leann Vincenzo, vice president. Back row, from left: Sue Cordner, board member; Sharon Barto, special helper and committee member; Patty Dubiel, board member; and Jamie Gay, secretary. Other board members not present are Max Vincenzo, treasurer; Angelo Vincenzo; Nicole Cybulski; and Rich Kidd. Norman and Vincenzo are holding the “wish list” that Judy Vincenzo created on which she expressed her wish, among other prayers and wishes, to help cancer patients pay for medical care. At the top of the list is the scripture verse: “And the Lord answered me and said, write the vision and make it plain upon tablets.”
During her second bout with cancer, Karen and Judy became close, as Karen sometimes took her to her chemo treatments. One of the places Judy loved to go was Later Gator in Wheeling, which would later become an important place for the family.
"When I think of my aunt," Karen said, "I think of someone who had cancer, but it didn't define her. It made her stronger and better. She lived her life to help others. Even though she battled cancer for 17 years, you'd never know it. Up until the last two weeks of her life, she lived every day like she wasn't sick. She was still very involved in the community."
Judy's daughter, Leann Vincenzo, spoke of her mother's dedication to her faith, a defining attribute of her personality. "Mom was an advocate to faith and spirituality to everyone she was around."
Rhonda Senakievich, a friend of Judy's and of the family, said "Her faith was her strength," while Karen added, "Her faith was who she was."
As Judy neared the end of her fight with cancer, she asked Karen if she would put her family pictures on a DVD for her kids. While Judy was at Liza's Place, Karen went to get the pictures from her aunt's home. Behind the closet door, however, she made a surprising discovery - a list written out on a large poster board. Written at the very top was a scripture verse reading, "And the Lord answered me and said, write the vision and make it plain upon tablets." Karen believes this verse served as her aunt's inspiration to start the list.
On the list were items that her family called little prayers, or wishes, for others. "Everything on the list is pretty much for everyone but herself," Karen said. After some prayers, she marked a date and wrote the word "Complete." For example, she'd written that she wished her son would live closer so she could spend time with him and his family. Next to it, she'd written the date when he returned home.
And while this list included everything from wishes to prayers to scripture writings, one note at the bottom stood out. Judy had written, "I want to set up a trust or some way that Dr. P. will be able to provide medication to his cancer patients who have to pay for it." Next to it she'd written "been there, done that."
After Karen saw the list, which she believes her aunt didn't intend for anyone to find until after she died, she spoke to Judy, who expressed that the trust fund was something she wished she could have done. At that point, Karen knew she had to make this happen, so she first checked with a nurse in the office of Dr. Thomas Przybysz, Judy's doctor, who told Karen she'd need to start a non-profit organization. Karen shared her idea with her cousin Jamie Gay, who encouraged her to take the next step and speak with Leann.
The two cousins met at Later Gator, and idea for the Judy Vincenzo Foundation was born. Karen said it seemed crazy at first, and she thought it would never get as far as it did, but Leann and Jamie both encouraged and supported her, so the family moved forward.
Next on board was Judy's best friend Sue Cordner, followed by Patty Dubiel. Family and friends quickly established the Judy Vincenzo Foundation board including Karen Norman, president; Leann Vincenzo, vice president; Max Vincenzo, treasurer; Jamie Gay, secretary; Rhonda Senakievich; Sue Cordner; Patty Dubiel; Angelo Vincenzo; Nicole Cybulski; and Rich Kidd. Sharon Barto acts as a special helper and committee member. Karen said others played an important role in the foundation's start-up including Peggy Kidd, Nancy Toto, the Union Local cheerleaders, the Dutton Family, Father Fred and the Saint Paul Parrish, First Christian Church of Flushing, the Fitzgerald family and the Dubiel family.
The group put together its first fund-raiser, a rummage sale held at the end of October. The group was completely overwhelmed with the outpouring of support from the community. "We had set an expectation that we thought we would reach at that rummage sale, and it was 10 times more than what we'd ever dream," Jamie stated. "That's the great thing about a small community. We are very blessed to live in that type of area."
Leann added that everyone knew Judy and everyone was willing to help out in any way, whether by donating items, coming to the sale and buying something or offering their help in other ways. In addition, Wheeling Feeling Kettle Corn set up a stand at the rummage sale and donated their proceeds to the foundation. "People just kept coming in with things," Leann said. "The fire hall was full."
"It's still coming in," Jamie added. "It just speaks volumes to the lives she touched, people wanting to give back that much to what she's given."
But the rummage sale was just the beginning. The foundation is planning more fund-raisers in the future including a chicken dinner in April and a poker run in June. It is also aiming to coordinate a 5K race, hopefully by April 2014.
The ultimate goal of the foundation, according to Karen, would be to sponsor a family with their medical needs and any needs associated with that. "We'd be bridging the gap between medical care and medical cost," she stated. Ideally, the group wants to target people like Judy - working middle class with huge 20 percent deductibles. "There is clearly a need in this area," Karen replied, noting research she'd done that showed a high percentage of uninsured adults in Belmont and Harrison counties.
"The ultimate goal is to help as many people as we can with the foundation, as big as we can, and maybe one day we can branch out further," Leann noted. "Right now our primary focus is Belmont and Harrison counties, because that's where she lived and worked."
After Judy died, support came to the family from many different places, not just local families. Leann recalled getting an email from a friend in California with a story about her mom. She'd gone back to read it recently, since her head was in a whirlwind right after her mom died. The girl writing the email said that when Judy was her playground aide, she touched her life in a monumental way. The girl was being abused by a family member and told nobody. One day, she reached her breaking point and started crying at school. Judy approached her to see what was wrong, and even though she was scared that no one would believe her, she just told Judy. With tears in her eyes, Leann concluded, "She said my mom gave her a really big hug and told her, 'God loves you,' and said the right things to her. She went on to say that it changed her life."
"This woman impacted more lives than anybody I can even think of," Leann added. "She was amazing. We want to continue her legacy in touching as many lives as we can through the foundation."
This entire group of family and friends - the Judy Vincenzo Foundation - says this experience brought everyone closer together as a family. In fact, Karen says that sometimes she feels like her aunt is there next to her telling her things. "I think my aunt knew what to do because the family wasn't close at all, and now, I feel like we're so close," Karen said.
"Our family is working together in a way that they've never worked together before," Jamie explained. "It's brought out the diverse part of the family, but now we're like one. Our family is doing great things and I couldn't be more proud to be a part of this family."
And while Judy may no longer be here, her legacy lives on through her family, friends and the foundation set up in her memory.
"She's working through us," Jamie said with a soft smile. "She's working through all of us."
For more information about the Judy Vincenzo Foundation, contact Karen Norman at 740-296-4203, email Judyvincenzo@rocketmail.com, or visit the Facebook page. Donations can be sent to the Judy Vincenzo Foundation, P.O. Box 314, St. Clairsville, Ohio 43950.