GREAT FALLS — July is Paris Gibson Month in Great Falls, a time to remember the contributions of the city’s founder. Wednesday, July 1st, marks what would have been Gibson’s 190th birthday. For 11 years, a leader and volunteer from the Great Falls community has been chosen as the annual “Paris Gibson Award” winner. This year Judy Ericksen is being recognized for her contributions. and on Wednesday, Ericksen received her honor with a tree-planting ceremony.
Ericksen, who moved to Great Falls in the 1960s, was chosen based on her dedication to and volunteer efforts for the city of Great Falls.
She’s best known for her investment in teaching pottery and art, running the library program at the Cascade County Detention Center, and assisting in various humanitarian efforts through the YWCA and her church.
“I'm grateful. I keep saying I've gained more from the things that I've done over the years than I'd given,” Ericksen said. “But I just would encourage anybody to dig in and find something that they're passionate about and then go do it. Because you learn a lot. You meet great people and keep moving this town forward.”
Ericksen’s tree was planted at West Bank Park, next to the trees of previous winners. Dozens attended the event, and Norma Ashby of the Paris Gibson Committee said the crowd was likely the largest she’d ever seen for the tree ceremony.
“It just means so much to have folks turnout. One of the hardest parts of this pandemic is that we are separated from each other,” Ericksen said. “And to have an event like this where we can practice the proper use of our masks and staying separated. But we can be together here, we can hear the laughter, hear the voices, people having a good time, and I'm glad for that.”
“I don't know how other people feel about it, but I have a real sense of family in Great Falls,” she added.
Ericksen’s $500 check for the award will be donated to the Great Falls Symphony Quartet and Quintet.
A news release from the City of Great Falls provides the following information:
Judy moved to Great Falls with her husband Joel from Minneapolis in the 1960s. Both of their sons, Jeff and Greg, were born in Great Falls. Joel became a science teacher with the GFPS and Judy became best known as an artist, starting with a pottery class at the YWCA more than 45 years ago. Her pieces are both beautiful and functional. She often donates her work and teaching sessions, for charities to auction or raffle as fundraisers. She continues to share her craft by teaching and mentoring students who are often working to overcome physical or mental challenges. They find the tactile medium of clay, along with Judy’s gentle way of coaching, to be beneficial in healing and rehabilitation. She has taught classes at Paris Gibson Square, an institution she was instrumental in creating.
Many years ago, her concern about hunger and poverty in the community prompted her to launch a very successful “Empty Bowls” event for the YWCA. During its first eight years, she single-handedly made 250 bowls each year to draw people and increase fundraising through the event. She continues to be involved today.
Judy served on the board of the women’s co-op gallery known as Gallery 16 that provided a place for artists of all types to showcase and sell their work.
Judy volunteers weekly at the Cascade County Detention Center where she has been involved for more than 20 years. By recruiting and organizing other volunteers to help, she runs the library program that includes receiving and making books available to inmates each Tuesday evening. She also created a way for inmates to be videoed sharing a message and reading a book that is sent to their children to help keep them connected with their family. In addition she helps inmates find ways to complete their GED and she coordinates the Christmas cookie gifts for inmates and staff.
Judy is deeply committed through her church to the Great Falls Pre-Release program, including helping raise funds annually to buy folks Christmas gifts.
For many years Judy has served as the chair of the Human Concerns Committee at her congregation, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church. This committee helps support many area organizations and is always searching for ways to be involved in Great Falls and helping better life here. She was instrumental in developing the FISH Food Ministry in Great Falls and continues to help with its annual fundraiser dinner.
After the passing of her husband Joel, she married Bill Larson, former music supervisor for the GFPS. Together they are deeply involved and generous with the Great Falls Symphony. In her early years in Great Falls, Judy was manager of the Cascade Quartet.
As one of her nominators said, “Through all the ways in which Judy helps to advocate and accompany others in Great Falls, and beyond, it is her modest and gentle spirit that shines brightest. Judy would be the last person to seek special recognition or speak highly of her own accomplishments. She simply moves through life listening to others, watching for ways to help others, encouraging others, standing up for others, and celebrating the accomplishments of others.”
As winner of this year’s Paris Gibson Award, Judy will receive $500 from Jimmy and Debbie Filipowicz of Steel, Etc., which may be given to a local charity of her choice; a tree, donated by Steve Tilleraas of Tilleraas Landscape Nursery, planted in West Bank Park in her honor.