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Judy Jankowski1 Resized
Judy Jankowski2 Resized

The Road Less Traveled with Judy Jankowski

For someone who puts in time at an airport, it’s only fitting that Judy Jankowski’s new mantra focuses in on where her curious nature might take her.

Not that she’s booking a lot of flights to and fro. Instead, she works for Experience Grand Rapids at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, serving as a tourist information specialist for others who are coming and going.

At first blush, it might not seem like a likely fit for someone who worked as a school psychologist, and later, taught psychology at Grand Rapids Community College.

But for Judy, it’s all about seeking out your passions, and embarking on a journey that satisfies yourself and also benefits others.

A native of Detroit, Judy graduated in 1970 from Dominican High School there, then earned degrees at Central Michigan University in psychology and art. She worked 10 years as a psychologist, mostly at Godwin Heights, then taught 30 years at GRCC.

She retired from education in June of 2016 and found herself excited about new prospects, but also anxious over leaving behind what she terms “something of such high structure.”

At a social gathering last year, she talked with a representative of Experience Grand Rapids and was intrigued about jobs they fill at the airport. Even before formally retiring, she was putting in time on a job she describes with a smile as  “Ten thousand steps and ten dollars an hour.”

“I work as a roamer, so I meet people coming off planes, and I do problem-solving,” she says. “There are people who missed a plane, first-time anxious travelers, adults with small children who need help; rental cars this way, bathrooms that way – you name it.”

According to Judy, the airport job not only provides her structure and socialization opportunities, but “it’s somewhere to go and something to do where I can make a difference.”

She’s also grateful for how “there’s enough engagement there to keep me aware of what’s happening in our community.”

Judy is no stranger to the Encore movement, either. Earlier this year, she conducted a Formation Retreat on behalf of Encore here for men and women interested in “being more discerning and thoughtful about what you do and why you do it.”

She draws lessons from Parker Palmer, an educator and author and activist who advocates living a wholehearted life that includes acknowledging failure as an integral component of self, and a stepping stone to fulfillment.

For others approaching retirement and wondering what their encore might look like, this married mother of two recommends “taking time to pause and listen to the voice of your own heart,” then “paying attention to where it calls you.”

She emphasizes that we seek solace not in self-indulgence, but instead meaning and purpose that gives back to others, “but you have to know yourself first.”

Judy balances her work at the airport with time spent volunteering for an alternative school in the area. She also is a lifelong student of art, and helps lead labs on metalsmithing at the GRCC campus.

As for her job at the airport, she says “I might stay with it,” grateful for the way it serves “as this box that held me together and gave me structure as I gently adapted to change.”

Then again, another wind might blow in, and convince her otherwise.

“Way leads on to way,” she offers, a powerful phrase in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Less Traveled.” In other words, there may be other avenues to wonder and wander.

“I’ll see,” she concludes, “where my curiosity takes me.”

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