Al: I appreciate your willingness to share with my readers and me what makes you who you are and where you are going. Let's start with who is Judy Samuel and where you are from.
Judy: I was born Judy Gordon, and I'm from Beloit, Wisconsin. I grew up in a large family and was number six in a family of six children; I was the baby. My mother died when I was only eight. Then my father remarried, and they had three more children. So, there were a total of nine children in our family.

My early years were spent in Beloit. When I look back on that period of time, I can see that they were really very tough years. I was from a poor family. I had no idea of how poor we were until I was in college. In one of my classes, we were talking about the median income. My father's income was no where near the median. It was not even at the lower income level, but it was never something that I grew up thinking about. We were poor, but we were healthy, happy and a family that cared deeply about each other.

Life on a farm revolves around labor. My job was to pick up the eggs and feed the chickens and ducks. I could play on my free time. My brothers and sisters had their chores to do too. In the summer, I carried water when my older siblings were in the field cutting cabbage, picking potatoes, or planting whatever. My father worked with pigs among other chores. His primary responsibility was keeping track of the genealogy and health records for all of the pigs that they had on the farm. I had fun playing with all the little animals. My closest sister was four years older than I, and there were only one or two children my age (within several miles) so it gave me a lot of time to be alone. I'm very comfortable with being alone. I would dream and make life what I wanted it to be.

Al: So, you were the baby of the first family, and until the second family, you were alone a lot.
Judy: Yes, and I was the oldest child of the second family which gave me a whole different perspective on things. I took over the role my oldest brother played in the first family. I took care of my little sisters. As a matter of fact, they often related to me more like daughters than sisters, especially the oldest one. I dragged her everywhere. She was my doll. I would take her wherever I was going and whatever I was doing, she would come along. I still tend to be a bit over protective of my "little sisters."

Al: What about your schooling?

Judy: I went to Beloit Memorial High School. I was a good student and a member of the National Honor Society. For many years, my family was the only black family in the schools that I attended until junior and senior high school. Even then, there were very few black students. It is very interesting how we didn't really fit into the school structure, although we thought we did at the time. I wasn't really a part of a lot of the activities. I wasn't in the band, but I did take orchestra. Playing an instrument was important at home. Even when it came to the National Honor Society, I don't remember going to meetings. I just wasn't really a part of the social scheme of the school.

Al: Being a minority left you alone a lot. I can see why you adjusted to being alone in the first family and in school. Tell me about your mother. What caused her early death?
Judy: We never knew the real reason, although we suspect that it was a stroke. She had been ill for a period of time-headaches, but that was about it. About the time she was getting ready to go to Madison to be admitted to the University of Wisconsin Hospital for tests, she died. It was Labor Day Weekend. I remember her death clearly. It was sort of the end of my world. My mother was very inspirational and very creative. My father was a hard-working man. Whatever he did, he did 100%. He labored on the farm literally from sunrise to sunset, came home, ate, and went to bed. My mother was the one who had visions of our going to school. I don't remember a time when I didn't think that I was going to go to college. She was creative in the sense that there were always flowers planted around the house. She made everything we wore and canned everything we ate. I still have visions of all these canned goods arrayed in the kitchen-all those vegetables and fruits. It was beautiful. What you ate in the fall and winter was what you collected during the summer. She would store it in whatever fashion (dried, canned, and smoked) in the fall. I remember that she even canned chicken and dumplings! She canned everything that could be canned. In the spring, she would plant such a beautiful garden. She was very creative and very much for her children. Today, she would probably be considered the mother from hell, because she was also an outspoken advocate for her children, making sure that they got whatever was due them. I remember her saving egg money to pay for piano lessons for my oldest sister. That is how I learned to play the violin. My sister taught me to play both the piano and the violin. Eventually, I took music lessons at school. It was that sort of thing, that balance, that my mother provided and that was so essential to our family. When she died, all of that was gone. It was really the end. I don't remember a lot of the years after that until my sisters came along. That did lighten things up again. In between my mother's death and the birth of my little sister, it was very difficult.

Al: Did you have a problem adjusting to your stepmother?
Judy: Absolutely. She was very different from my mother. She was a very young woman--four years older than my oldest brother. She came into this family with all these children. Wow! She was a good church-going southern woman, not terribly learned, and didn't like sewing, cooking, and all of that. Poor thing, she was dropped into a family with six children who resented her. It wasn't until college that I gained a whole different understanding about her. It was so uplifting, because my resentment faded. I studied sociology and psychology and began to understand why I felt the way I did. I was so sorry for how I had responded to her and have spent my adult life making up for it.

Al: You realize that your response was a normal response of any child, don't you?

Judy: Oh yes, but I can't do enough for her now. Besides, she is still there for my father who is now 88.

Al: Do they still live in Beloit?
Judy: No, they live in Madison. Four of my sisters are in Madison, the three little ones, and one of my older sisters. We moved my parents from Beloit to Madison so they could be close to them. It is funny how life plays out. If he hadn't had the second, he would not have had his primary caretaker-my younger sister. My father is a very proud and stubborn man. But he is very comfortable letting my younger sister take control so we funnel everything through her. We respect this relationship and frequently talk about what a lifesaver she has been for all of us. The family works together to make sure that they are living a comfortable life and have no financial worries. It is really wonderful how life works out. However, my father is in the hospital now.

Al: How critical is his condition?
Judy: He has stomach problems and has had surgery to remove part of his intestine. Ever since that, he has had scar tissue that continues to grow back so it has to be redone. It has been redone two times. This could be the third time. The doctors are hopeful it can be resolved with medication and diet. My father is getting to the end of the road in terms of tolerance for surgery, doctors, and hospitals. He says that he is tired of all this. He tells me that he has had a good life, he tried to do his best, and he doesn't feel like going through this anymore.

Al: You can understand where he is coming from. Another couple of months of suffering so that he can live another year of suffering. It's a shame that he has to go through all this.

Judy: It surprises us that he's become a real worrier in his later years. He worries about money and why I don't know. We are not going to let anything happen to him, yet he worries about money incessantly.

Al: He spent his whole life doing just that.

Judy: Yes, that's probably it.

Al: Judy, tell me about where you went to college.
Judy: I went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It is a wonderful and beautiful state university. I didn't get enough scholarship money to take me through school, so my Father and I went up there to see what we could do. I remember my father driving me to Madison in some little old car. We went to a University loan office to see if we could get a loan. It wasn't long before I met Ruth Doyle who helped students get financial assistance. It turns out that she was a very prominent woman and told my dad and me about the whole world of financial aid. She also told me about a professor friend whose children were leaving to attend school out of state. Everything was coming together. I ended-up staying with Professor Willard Hurst and his wife, Fran. With their children gone, their house was empty, and they just wanted someone there. She said that I could help with dishes or something, but they just would like to have a young person around. For the first time in my entire life, I had my own room. It was huge.

Al: You had made it.

Judy: I sure had. It was like being in tall cotton. With the loan, everything worked out. I marvel to this day at how easy it all seemed. It never occurred to me that it wouldn't work out. College threw me for a real loop. It was a whole different world for me. The classes were huge and impersonal. If you made it fine, if you didn't that's fine also.

Al: You're just a number.
Judy: Yes, you're just a number, and you're on your own. I loved it. I loved the atmosphere and all the new things that I learned. I was so na?ve. My world so small that I never realized there were so many different people. My world had been either white people or black people. All of a sudden, there were people from numerous ethnic groups and other parts of the world. What's this all about?

Al: What years were you in college?
Judy: I was in college between 1964-68-a time of a lot of national trouble. Race and Viet Nam were big. At that point, I wasn't a joiner. I didn't join many organizations. That attitude was a carry over from the days of McCarthyism. My father told me not join groups and to be aware of what I put my name on. I had an aversion to putting my name on anything. I didn't want to be known as a part of anything. I don't know if that was good or bad now that I look back on it. It wasn't until much later that I finally got active in organizations. College was an exciting time. Then to top it all off, one of my sisters moved to San Francisco. During the summer, I would visit with her.

Al: For a kid from Beloit, that must have been a whole New World out there.
Judy. Oh, my god! I spent a lot of time in Haight Ashbury and even had contact with the Black Panther party. I worked for a project that was sponsored by the Stone Foundation. I don't know how, but I ended up doing interviews with people about violence. The organization wanted to interview people from all walks of life. I interviewed prostitutes, hippies, and just plain people in Haight Ashbury. For a kid out of Beloit, Wisconsin, this was like being in Disneyland. I couldn't believe people thought so differently and how the system or their life situation had tied them down.

It was a New World. I cut off all my hair and wore it natural. I remember coming back to Wisconsin and my father picking me up at the airport and wondering who in the hell I was and why I had cut off my hair. He thought that I was so radical. Of course, I wasn't that radical, but I had opinions now that I never had before.

Al: After college, what did you do?
Judy: I needed a job now that I was out of school. My whole family is steeped in the notion that you have to work and make money. You can't be poor ever again. That was the first thing on my mind-I had to get a job. I came to Chicago. I heard about the Model Cities program. I managed to get an interview with Erwin France who was the head of this program. I came to Chicago for the interview during the Democratic Convention. Police, soldiers, and tanks lined the streets along Michigan Avenue and Grant Park. I'll never forget how it felt and how it looked. There were tanks in the street. The soldiers looked at you as if you were the enemy. So frightening. I never felt anything like that before nor since.

Al: The world was coming apart.

Judy: I think that you're correct. That's how it felt. We all owe a great debt to Dr. Martin Luther King and the leadership within the black and white churches. Had it not been for him and his insistence that we must always have God in our battle for equality, I don't think that our society would have made it.

Al: I remember when I was in graduate school in Pittsburgh thinking that America wouldn't make it into the 70s. JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Medger Evers, and Martin Luther King all died from assassination. America was unraveling at its very seam.

Judy: I know, I thought that the world was really coming to an end too.

Al: It was a strange time for an interview.
Judy: It was sheer madness. I had my interview with Erwin France in his limousine while he was driven to a meeting. That was my first ride in a limousine. After the interview, he said, "Well nice talking to you. I'll get in touch." And here I was on the south side of Chicago with no idea where I was or how I was going to get back to the Greyhound Bus station. I remember hitchhiking back downtown. In the process, I learned a lot about the city. A nice man picked me up and lectured me about hitchhiking. He told me about the bus system and the elevated trains. I guess I looked like I was from Beloit.

I got the job with the Model Cities Program. That was another high point of my life. I had never worked with or even seen so many black professionals in one place. It was a blessing for me to work with them. I learned so much about the city, the neighborhoods, and myself. I worked in neighborhoods on the near northside (Uptown), the near southside (47th and Drexel) and midsouth (63rd and Woodlawn). I worked with community organizations and learned a lot about them. The Model Cities Program encouraged community residents to identify and prioritize their problems and specify the programs that they wanted to implement. I came into contact with a lot of angry people who didn't trust or believe anyone anymore. We worked so hard. We were at meetings every night and then when we would get together during the day and put the proposals together. We were idealistic and young. We couldn't have received that learning from textbooks.

My Model Cities co-workers were among the smartest people I have ever known. I have had a chance now to work with CEO's and a lot of people who are presumably brilliant. These people were brilliant and committed.

Al: Where did you go next?
Judy: I wanted to work for a small business. I joined a black-consulting firm in 1973. After a couple of years, I wanted to try a large corporation. I literally walked in the doors of CNA, filled out an application, and talked with a recruiter who happened to like what I had to say. I was at the right place at the right time with the right person. I was hired by CNA and learned what corporate life was like. I took advantage of every opportunity to learn something new. Insurance isn't a business that has historically drawn blacks, and it isn't talked about in the schools. It was a big mystery, which I wanted to understand. CNA was a great learning opportunity for me.

Al: Judy, thank you for letting me take some pictures of you in your office. You have decorated it very nicely. I especially like the picture of the horses.
Judy: Do you really like it? I don't know why it appeals to me, but I love the painting.

Al: It's autobiographical; it pictures your personality. The horses are the way you view life. It isn't surprising that you like it!
Judy: Well, I never saw that in the picture. Perhaps you're right. I'll have to think about that. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

Al: What is in your future as you charge through life?

Judy: I don't know, but I do love new challenges. My current job in human resources has been rewarding and ever-changing. Whatever I do next will also be related to people. I have learned so much from people, and I'm always wondering how they were shaped by their experiences. My husband and I are trying to figure out how to wrap our next career stage around the things we love--people, art, gardening, and cooking (he's the cook).

Al: What will God say when you die and go to heaven?
Judy: "You did good. You did good. You weren't sitting up there in the pews singing in the choir, but you did good."

Al: What advice would you give to those who follow you?
Judy: If you listen to people, you might learn something. Some people are so anxious to get their ideas out that they can't hear what others have to say. If you make people feel comfortable, they will reveal so much knowledge. Be a good listener.