Baraboo’s Kiwanis Club wants to honor Judy Ellington with its community service award. But the Kiwanians are too late: She already feels honored just to serve.
On April 24, Ellington will become the 32nd recipient of the Dr. Al Dippel Community Service Award, given to unsung heroes who work behind the scenes to make Baraboo a better place to live. The award is named for Dippel, a founding Kiwanis Club member and tireless volunteer.
A committee of past Kiwanis presidents voted unanimously to honor Ellington for her work with Kids’ Ranch, First United Methodist Church and advocacy groups for the elderly. “This is an honor long overdue,” said Kiwanis President David Vander Schaaf. “Baraboo Kiwanis is proud to have its name associated with a devoted volunteer like Judy Ellington.”
Ellington said she was surprised to learn she had been nominated and selected. The Rev. Marianne Cotter and Joan Fordham — who herself won the award in 2006, calling it “Baraboo’s highest honor” — submitted the nomination. “I’m overwhelmed,” Ellington said. “There are so many people doing wonderful things in this community. It feels to me that what I do is little bits of things.”
Ellington helped found Kids’ Ranch, which offers educational and recreational programs for at-risk youths. She has twice embarked on medical mission trips to Haiti. She has been a member of the local PEO Sisterhood chapter for 35 years, including two stints as president. Ellington has worked with the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance and the local Aging and Disability Resource Center to advocate for seniors.
“Through effective listening and quiet persuasion, she works to enhance the well-being of others around her,” Cotter wrote in her nomination of Ellington. “Judy’s gentle, compassionate and generous spirit makes others want to be part of whatever she is doing.”
Ellington has been a dedicated member of the congregation Cotter leads at First United Methodist Church. Since joining the church in the early 1970s, Ellington has run a grief support group, organized a mission trip to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and organized the church’s annual Christmas dinner.
“Although she is now retired from her professional career as a nurse practitioner, Judy is very much a healing presence in our church and throughout the community,” Cotter wrote.
Ellington came to Baraboo in 1968, when husband John got a job leading the high school and middle school choirs. She landed a job as a school nurse, and was something of a rarity because she held a bachelor’s degree. In 1976 she took a job at Medical Associates, one she would hold for 40 years.
Her first stint as a volunteer came during George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. Before long, she was running the St. Clare Hospital Auxiliary’s annual salad lunch. In 1983, she started leading the Growing Through Grief support group, a ministry that continues today. “It’s not easy to share one’s hurts,” Ellington said. “That’s a gift that has to be treated with care.”
In 1989, Ellington served on the original Al. Ringling Theatre Friends board that bought the historic playhouse and saved it from becoming a movie multiplex. A decade later, Ellington shifted her attention to youths as Anne Rakos drafted her to help launch Kids’ Ranch in Rock Springs. It offers tutoring to kids who struggle in school. “You just know you’ve got to get to kids early,” Ellington said. “I really think the program has influenced lots of kids positively.”
Ellington said her Norwegian modesty might make the April 24 reception in her honor an awkward affair. She doesn’t feel she has done much more than anyone else, a common trait among Dippel Award recipients.
“You look around and see so much need,” Ellington said. “You have to find one little spot where you feel you can make a difference.”