Known for her maternal charm and endless hugs, Judith Kirkeeng, one of the Galowich Family Y’s most beloved members, often goes by Grandma Judy.
Grandma Judy is a charming, lovable woman who was born and raised in Joliet. She’s a regular at the Y, where she participates in one or two classes every morning—rain, snow or sunshine.
“The Y is kind of like my home,” she says, while drinking coffee after a Friday morning Zumba session. “This is an everyday thing for me.”
Throughout her life, Grandma Judy faced quite a few obstacles. When she was young, she battled a weight problem, and eventually lost up to 100 pounds. Later on, she successfully fought through health complications that included undergoing leg surgery and fighting cancer. Fortunately, Judy says she’s been cancer free for 10 years.
“I go to an orthopedic doctor, to a heart doctor, to a cancer doctor, so on and so on. Each one of them told me, that if it wasn’t for what I was doing here at the YMCA, then I would not be walking,” Grandma Judy said. “I really contribute a lot to the Y. It means the world to me.”
Grandma Judy’s ties with the YMCA date back long before she received her nickname. In fact, at the age of eight, young Judy learned how to swim at the historic Joliet YMCA on Ottawa Street. Down the line, her children and grandchildren became Y Members, participating in a number of sporting programs, including the Joliet Y JETS Swim Team.
Nowadays Grandma Judy is an avid participant in everything from swimnastics to Zumba to PiYo (pilates and yoga combined). Away from the Y, she bowls and, in 2013, she even began horseback riding—something she was finally comfortable enough to try.
Her admiration for the YMCA inspired Grandma Judy to become a donor in 2013.
“I love the Y,” she said. “I love everybody. The staff is all so good. They’re all so sweet. The kids, I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Grandma Judy is quite popular among the youngsters around the Y. She says that, sometimes, the children will try to sneak in a hug during a workout session.
Grandma Judy, of course, doesn’t mind. Everyone gets a hug—rain, snow or sunshine.