Dr. Judy A. Abbott named Citizen of the Year
by Barbara Holl, Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce
Judy A. Abbott is committed to doing the work when opportunities are presented to improve the community, to open doors for learning, and to provide choices for the future of young people.
Abbott was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and attended the University of Oklahoma, she received a B.S. and M.S. in Education with an emphasis in Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. After college Abbott was employed with Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City, working in employee health-fitness. Abbott worked as part of a team with cardiac patients and their families on the cardiac care, fitness, and rehabilitation.
As Director of the PACER Fitness Center, she became involved in community service. She coordinated fitness opportunities across Oklahoma City and she participated in marathons, triathlons, and 10k runs. She served on the Board of the Lake Hefner Trails and was instrumental in the early development of the trails around the lakes.
Abbott moved to San Antonio, where she taught in the public schools and provided professional development for new teachers and administrators. Abbott volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and with the effort to build a playground in downtown San Antonio.
In 1990, Abbott continued her education at the University of Texas in Austin and received her Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in literacy studies. Abbott's work on a long term research project studying grade 1 reading and writing instructional practices in both rural and urban school environments strengthened her knowledge of and commitment to public education.
In 1995, Abbott accepted a position at West Virginia University teaching literacy studies. She joined the Monongahela River Trails Conservancy, as a runner and bicyclist this volunteer work was a natural fit; she was previously involved in trail development and use in Oklahoma City, San Antonio, and Austin. Through the rails-to- trails work, Abbott met her future husband, Ralph LaRue, Director of the Marion County Parks and Recreation. Ralph, a long time public servant, contributed to her growth in understanding the value in community service.
Appointed Assistant Dean, College of Human Resources & Education, Abbott continued to grow her service beyond WVU. She provided leadership on the WV Children’s Book Award committee and on the WV Department of Education Collaborative for Educational Leadership, and provided professional development across the state.
In 2010, Abbott accepted the position of Dean of the James I. Perkins College of Education at Stephen F. Austin State University. Abbott immediately become involved with the Chamber, she completed Leadership Nacogdoches 2010-11 and was elected to the Chamber Board of Directors in 2011. She joined the Chamber’s Education Committee, became chair in 2013, and invested in its four primary initiatives - Great Expectations, Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT Crew), NOBLE Scholars Banquet, and the NOBLE Scholarships. Through involvement in the Chamber, Abbott made connections between the public schools, SFA, and the community in ways that were mutually beneficial.
Abbott claims that education enables students to have choices. “Education opens opportunities for choices that some may not realize they have. It plants the seed for post-secondary opportunities - employment, military service, technical school, and higher education.” Abbott understands the many challenges facing public schools. "The expectation and definition of public education has expanded over the years, making working in public education more challenging due to limited resources at the local and state levels."
Abbott has many supporters since settling in Nacogdoches. Husband Ralph LaRue continues to encourage her involvement in the community. Abbott said “Ralph is often the one who tells me that there are things that need doing, there are things you can do.” Other individuals who have influenced Abbott to serve the community are Dr. Patsy Hallman. “Patsy opened doors for me and supported me from the first week that I arrived. I appreciate the connections she provided me.” Keith Hand offered to make NIBCO INC. a partner with the LOT Crew and NOBLE Scholars Banquet, while Micheal Stidham offered his time, leadership, and executive experience with the LOT Crew. Raymond Wiggins with Bright Coop and the Milam Masonic Lodge also connected Abbott with others invested in supporting education. In 2015, the Milam Masonic Lodge #2 awarded Abbott their first Mirabeau B. Lamar Award of Excellence, for her leadership in education and her support of their yearly scholarship awards. Abbott acknowledges her staff and graduate assistants investing in her volunteerism, “They seem to believe that my work is their work. We're a team!"
Blessed with an adventuresome spirit and an energy that allows her to say, "Yes," when others reach out to her, “I believe in walking through doors that others have opened for me and going where I am invited. I have a willingness to do the work, and that work often provides opportunities for others.”
The Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors is proud to name Dr. Judy A. Abbott Citizen of the Year 2018 sponsored by Tipton Ford-Lincoln.
Barbara Holl is the Operation Vice President, Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce