By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 9, 2017
DECATUR—Judy Chadwick stood in Mulhern Hall at St. Thomas More School and pointed across the courtyard to the windows on the top floor of the church building.
“All eight grades were on one floor. It was small. It was great. It really was,” she reminisced.
More than a half century ago, she was a student there. She remembers the sisters in habits who taught at the school as strict, but her father was strict too. Decades have gone by, but she recalls the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur carried small noisemakers in their hands. A click from them got a wayward student’s attention.
“I’ve never left here. I don’t remember not being here. I’ve been to more than eight graduations. I look forward to that,” said Chadwick, who had on a black jacket, striped pants and white Converse All-Star sneakers. She later walked to the cafeteria to tell some of the students to head to the gym, as she wiped the tables clean.
As a member of the St. Thomas More class of 1959 (and later the St. Pius X High School class of 1963) Chadwick stands out as an alumna involved at her alma mater, an archdiocesan kindergarten through eighth-grade school. She was Judy Jenkins at the time. St. Thomas More opened in 1950 and St. Pius X in 1958.
“Judy definitely loves the school, loves the students here. She’s very connected with the community,” said school principal Jerry Raymond.
A daughter of a salesman, Chadwick and nine other siblings grew up in the parish. Her father was a native of Savannah and insisted the children get a Catholic education. All her sacraments were received at the church on West Ponce de Leon Avenue in Decatur. Eight of her siblings attended the school, along with Chadwick’s three children and three grandchildren.
“I’ve watched pastors come and go. We’re still here,” said the 71-year-old.
She worked as a hairdresser for years. Her clients are now in their 80s and 90s, so she hauls her scissors and hair-styling tools to nursing homes.
Her start date as an employee at the school was Aug. 1, 1996.
Students at the archdiocesan school needed a safe place to go after school as more families had two working parents. She pitched in to help her daughter, Brandy Graham, who taught there at the time, to organize the aftercare program. She has been there ever since while her daughter teaches at another Catholic school, Sophia Academy. The program takes over Mulhern Hall once classes are dismissed. Some 250 students are registered.
Chadwick likes to keep the program simple. Students organize their own fun. They can do homework, play board games, build with Legos, draw, play in the gym or talk amongst themselves. Only older kids can use electronics. Some have suggested adding more structure to the three hours, but her vision is the youngsters need to learn the skills to entertain themselves after a regimented school day.
“She does create in our afterschool program a family-like atmosphere,” said Raymond. “She cares about all the kids, she knows all the parents.”
The size of the parish and the school draws people together, especially in times of need. When her husband, Howard, died eight years ago, so many people reached out with meals and visits it was overwhelming, she said.
“It’s a big community. It’s a great family. It never ends. Your friends are here. Your family is here,” she said. “My whole 70 years have been wrapped up in the St. Thomas More School.”