Understanding the importance of everyone is something Gwen’s oldest daughter highlights as one of the most important lessons her mother taught her.
“She taught us that everyone mattered,” said Jodi Judkins Aird. “It didn’t matter where you were in status on the team, in a job, or as a friend. Everyone should be treated well. She noticed everybody. When she went to a game, she didn’t just see Jeff or my other brothers, she’d see everybody.”
Gwen Peterson met and married Bary Judkins at BYU in 1954. Bary, or BJ as he was known, was a talented athlete who owned state records in track for decades. He finished his education at the U. and then joined his brother in the family business — Judkins Brothers.
“My dad had the state record in the 100-yard dash for a number of years,” said Jeff. “He ran in 10 seconds flat on a dirt track.”
Bary may have had the athletic ability, but it was Gwen who had the energy to make sure her children capitalized on it.
Not only did Gwen, whose only opportunities to play came in P.E. classes, sign the boys up for basketball, baseball and football leagues, she took them to any opportunity to play just about anything. One day she took her three oldest boys — Jeff, Jerry and Jay, along with her nephew, Danny Varanes, to a punt, pass and kick contest at the old baseball field — Dirk’s Field.
They were all competing and in different age categories and they all won their divisions.
“She’d take us to the old Deseret Gym, drop us off and we’d be there all day playing pick up with all of these old guys,” said Jeff. “She was the one who dragged us everywhere.”
Gwen’s ability to juggle church callings for the LDS Church, volunteer duties with various leagues and general mothering and transportation duties was tested when she and Bary decided to divorce in 1979. Jeff was playing for the Boston Celtics and Jerry, Jay and Jon were in college and/or married. But Jodi was a junior when her parents separated and recalls how difficult it was for her mom.
“It was hard because in her day, no one got divorced,” said Aird, now 51. “It took a lot of courage to get divorced. She taught me to have courage and strength. Some people were mean, kind of judgmental, saying, ‘Just stay and tough it out.’ My mom wasn’t that kind. She taught me to be myself and do what you think is right.”
Jeff said he believes his dad got “wrapped up in work and mom got wrapped up in us.”
Gwen said she never discussed her decision to divorce in detail with her children. She said she went to counseling and hoped they might work things out, but that eventually she believed it best for both of them “to move on” separate from each other. They remained friendly, and while Bary remarried, Gwen never did. Bary passed away in 2005 after battling lung cancer.
Both Jodi and Jeff said there were financial implications after the divorce, including the fact that their mom and the four youngest children moved from their beautiful home on Wasatch Boulevard to a duplex they’d purchased as an investment above Foothill. Gwen still lives in that duplex, and when she talks about the adjustments of single parenthood, she has a way of making it sound like a fantastic opportunity.
She didn’t have time to feel sorry for herself, and why would she? She still had her busy schedule, including church callings and sporting events.
“I had to watch what I lived on,” Gwen said, smiling and shrugging as she tried to recall the difficulties. “I didn’t go to work for the first little while, I just did odd jobs at home. I worked for my boys at Judkins Brothers and I worked for a dentist. It was important for me to be at their games. It was different, I guess. But it was a good change.”
Both Jeff and Jodi said one of the most important lessons their mother taught them was the value of hard work.
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