“Success travels in the company’s very hard work. There is no trick, no easy way.” – John Wooden
MOUNT VERNON – Thousands of graduates this month will be commemorating speakers on the road to success, a road that will bring challenges and setbacks but offer potential reward.
Judy Stahl Forney traveled that road, overcoming obstacles on a journey that began 25 years after high school. Her story inspires during caps and gowns this season.
Ultimately, she would succeed on her own determination. But something she overheard her father saying to a neighbor when she was a young girl would help motivate her to enroll in college three decades later while juggling the roles of a single mother working full time.
Forney, now the treasurer of the Knox Educational Service Center in Mount Vernon, has a familiar face in Knox and Richland counties where he is known simply as “Judy.”
She served as a tenure for the treasurer for Lexington Local Schools (2003-2011) and Mount Vernon City Schools (2012-2019). She was elected to the Lexington School Board in 1996 and reelected in 2000 before serving as an active member of the Mansfield City Schools Board of Education.
A long and demanding path to career
While many know Judy, most are unaware of the long, demanding road that led to her career goals.
Perhaps it was a hint of what to come when she was elected treasurer of her junior and senior classes at Malabar High School on Mansfield’s south side. But college wasn’t in the cards when Judy Stahl graduated in 1967.
“We couldn’t afford it. Dad worked at Westinghouse and mom was a homemaker, “she recalled. “College simply wasn’t an option.”
During the nine years that followed, Judy would marry, have two children and work at Farmers Saving & Trust. In 1980 she began a 16-year stint as a print production manager for the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center in Mansfield.
The late ’80s would prove to be a difficult period.
“Mom died in 1986. Dad died in 1987, one year to the day that we buried mom,” she said.
In 1989 her marriage broke up. Finances became tight.
For a couple of years she supplemented her Mid-Ohio ESC income as a stringer for the Mansfield News Journal, covering school board meetings at Lexington, Lucas and Clear Fork.
Turned in her news stories the hard way
“I got $ 30 for each story,” Judy recalled. “There was no email in those days. After each meeting I had to go home, type the story, then drive to the News Journal and put it in the outside drop box. Sometimes it was evening before I finished, then I had to work at 8 by the next morning. “
One day at the Mid-Ohio ESC Judy mentioned to a co-worker that she wished she could go to college.
“I started college now but I think I’m too old. I’ll be 40 next year, “Judy said.
Her co-worker’s response: “How old would you be next year if you didn’t start college?”
That remarkably stuck with Judy. It took a while to get everything in place but she was enrolled in North Central State College in 1992.
“I started college at 42, with a full-time job and two kids at home,” she said. “I was definitely a late bloomer.”
For three years she attended classes at NCSC after work, traveling and traveling from the northwest side of Mansfield to her home on the Snow Trails on the southeast side.
Master’s Degree from AU in 2003
In 1995 she received an associate’s degree in accounting and finance. A bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting from Ashland University followed in 1998 and a master’s in education and school finance from Ashland in 2003.
During her college years Judy helped support her children with a variety of odd jobs, including part-time work at the Richland County Law Library and proofreading the names in elementary school yearbooks. (“I got $ 5 per page to take them home and cross-check the names beneath the kids’ pictures with a master list of names.”)
She also sold tickets at Lexington High School football and basketball games.
“I was paid $ 17 per night. When there were back-to-back Friday-Saturday home basketball games, that meant $ 34, so I told my daughter we could get pizza for her and her friend, “she said, smiling.
All told, Judy has been a school treasurer for 20 years, including nearly three years at Bucyrus (1999-2002) and more than a year at Lucas (2002-2003).
She began work on the Knox ESC treasurer in March 2021, where she manages an annual budget of $ 5 million. The ESC has full-time employees at its Learning Center in Mount Vernon and its preschool at the New Hope Early Education Center. It also hires classroom aides for its client districts – Centerburg, Clear Fork, East Knox, Fredericktown, Danville and Mount Vernon. “
“My assistant and I manage all aspects of financial operations, including payroll twice a month, purchasing, payables, receivables and federal grants management,” Judy said. “We work cooperatively with our client district treasurers.”
Clearly remembers her father’s words
Happily remarried for eight years, Judy has seen her two adult children achieve their own carers. She has four grandchildren, three in Mansfield and one in Dayton.
A lot of hard work and personal grit led to her professional success, but all along the way Judy would remember what she overheard her father say those many years ago.
“I was 12 or 13 and in my room at Third Street in Mansfield when I heard my dad talking to a neighbor outside. He said, ‘The thing with Judy is that she can do anything she puts to her mind.’
“I never forgot that,” she said, forming a tear in the corner of one eye. “I couldn’t let him down.”
Larry Gibbs is the public information officer for the Knox Educational Service Center in Mount Vernon.