COVINGTON, Ky. — Judi Gerding and Gay Middendorf were fast friends when they met as students at Notre Dame Academy.
“Gay was from Kenton County. I was from Campbell County,” Gerding said. “We were not in the same home room. But everybody gets all mixed up there in different ways.”
The friendship ebbed and flowed as friendships often do, as the women graduated from high school in 1958, got married and had children. But Gerding always was there when Middendorf most needed her, Middendorf said.
“Judi Gerding’s the kind that once she’s your friend, she doesn’t forget you,” Middendorf said. “We became forever friends.”
When Middendorf was injured in a major car wreck, Gerding showed up every week with homemade cookies or lipstick or some other treat, Middendorf said. Gerding was there for her friend again when Middendorf was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“Every week, Judi had time from her busy job to bring me homemade cookies, homemade this and that,” Middendorf said. “One day she came in, and I said, ‘Judi, if I ever get well and don’t die of this, I’m coming down, and I’m going to help you.’”
That was 37 years ago.
Middendorf made good on her promise and has been a valued volunteer at The Point/Arc in Covington ever since. The nonprofit provides opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to help them reach their highest potential in every way.
“You get so much happiness when you see what it does,” Middendorf said of the organization. “I’ve gone to dances where there might be 200 people there with their parents and with other people. They have bowling. They take them to church. I mean, they have a full life, and I think that’s wonderful.”
“She’s our biggest cheerleader, really,” Gerding said of Middendorf. “When I go out socially, I never talk about The Point, especially if Gay’s with me, because that’s all she does. She talks about The Point constantly, to the point, you know, I’m embarrassed.”
Gerding became the founding president of The Point/Arc in 1972. She had joined a group for parents of children with intellectual and developmental disabilities after her son, Steve, was diagnosed with Rubinstein-Taybi Syndrome at a young age. In 1972, several parent groups merged to form an advocacy organization to assist their loved ones, and Gerding has been leading the group since then.
Middendorf began volunteering as Gerding’s secretary because she had worked as a secretary years earlier before starting her family.
“When I first came down here, I was really nervous. All my skills were dull,” Middendorf said. “I started on something called a computer. And if you made a mistake, you could go back. You didn’t need Wite-Out and all that.”
The experience, she said, was “really empowering.”
Over the years, Middendorf began helping with larger projects and even co-chaired some of The Point’s major events
Gerding estimates that all the time Middendorf has volunteered over the years has saved The Point more than $300,000.
“God doesn’t make mistakes. He strategically sends individuals to us to make us better people. I always use that relative to the people we serve,” Gerding said. “But that also applies to Gay and many, many, many more who are on our roster of support and do the little things. I always say it’s not how much or how little, it’s everyone doing what they can, when they can, that has made us who we are today.”
‘I wish I had more time’
Middendorf said her motivation to help is simple.
“First and above all, I try to help Judi. I think I’d be lying if I didn’t say that,” she said. “Because she works so hard 24-7.”
But Middendorf insists she has gained more than she has given through her countless volunteer hours.
“It changes your heart forever,” she said of the work and everything she has learned from it. “I’ve gotten so much more out of The Point and became a better person for it.”
She has wonderful memories of the way her late husband helped the organization, too, and how he used to walk over from his job to have lunch at the restaurant The Point used to operate. The Point now operates Point Perk coffee shop in Covington. (Middendorf brought over a softball-sized chocolate, chocolate-chip muffin from the shop during her interview to show off its impressive size and good looks.)
“All the employees love me, that’s the big thing,” Middendorf said with a smile. “My husband used to tease me and say, ‘Well, you finally got the job of your dreams. You go to work at 10, have a two-hour lunch, and then you can leave if you want.’”
When asked if she had any idea how much time she has donated to The Point over the years, Middendorf said she didn’t.
“Really, the idea is, I wish I had more time,” said Middendorf, who is 81. “I mean, I’m getting older. So I – you wouldn’t think that – but I worry. I do, even though I’m a volunteer. I worry, ‘Who’s gonna do this?’”
Middendorf has been a little under the weather lately, she said, and hasn’t been able to spend as much time at The Point as she’d like.
“I miss it, dreadfully,” she said. “It’s a sad day when I think of leaving here.”
From the looks of it, that day isn’t coming any time soon.
More information about The Point/Arc is available online. The organization’s 50th anniversary JOY gala is scheduled for Nov. 20 at Hotel Covington. Tickets and reservations can be made online or by calling (859) 491-9191.
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