JATV manager dies at 63

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Catherine W. Idzerda
May 18, 2009
— A light in a kitchen window.

A friend who was more like a sister.

A community asset who can’t be replaced.

Judi Kneece was all of those things.

On Sunday, Kneece, 63, died at the University of Minnesota Hospital where she planned to be part of a stem cell transplant trial. Kneece’s daughter, Sarah, was to be the stem cell donor.

To her many friends and colleagues, Kneece seemed like an unstoppable force, a woman whose leadership abilities were matched by a generous heart.

Kneece was manager of JATV, a job she took in 1997 when the cable station started. It was part of her commitment to open government and her desire to create a community were people were connected to each other.

She was a founding member of the committee to mark Susan B. Anthony’s birthday and a founding member of the Diversity Action Team.

She was chairwoman of ECHO’s fundraising drive for a new building, was on the board of the YWCA when the organization was building a domestic violence shelter, was a member of the Rock County Women’s History Committee, was president of the Women’s Fund and held a variety of national positions in the American Association of University Women. Just last week, she was inducted into the Rock County Hall of Fame.

But she also was a committed friend.

“I remember when I would drop Judi off at her house,” Diana Shadel said. “There would be a light in the kitchen window that faced the street.”

That light illuminated Kneece’s neatly landscaped lawn. Shadel would return to her own home, look at the weeds in her own yard and wonder how the Kneeces managed.

“She was an older sister to me,” Shadel said. “That’s how our relationship was.”

Kneece gave Shadel advice that helped her through tough times and lent practical help for events such as Shadel’s son’s graduation party.

And she managed to do it all without being an intrusive busy body. Her concern and care for her friends was natural and unaffected.

Recently, when a friend’s husband died unexpectedly, Kneece worried about not being able to attend the visitation.

“Judi was all concerned that she (the wife) would understand why she couldn’t come,” Shadel said. “She feels so strongly about doing good for people.”

In a previous story about Kneece, one of her longtime friends, Carolyn Brandeen, said: “Judi has the ability in her head, but her heart drives her.”

She strongly believed that women become strong and independent through education, by making their own choices and by having models and mentors, Brandeen said.

Kneece was such a model to her own daughter.

In a story written in 1980, Kneece spoke happily about her role as mother and homemaker. A photo shows Kneece pausing mid-task to smile at her daughter who is offering her a flower.

“You’re not going to gain fame being a mother and a homemaker. But the fact that it’s affecting people ... that continues to multiply (in the community) and may make this an easier place for all of us to live,” Kneece said.

But even at that time, Kneece was involved with the YWCA, League of Woman Voters and American Association of University Women.

Janesville City Council member Yuri Rashkin served on the city’s JATV committee. He liked Kneece for her friendliness and her commitment to access.

“She very much had an open-door approach,” Rashkin said. “She used to say that she had two requirements for a JATV program: It had to be easy to hear—audible—and the camera had to move in such a way that it didn’t make her nauseous to watch.”

Kneece had a sense of joy, a feeling of light that made her so well liked. Shadel described that light from her home; another friend described a conversation with Kneece as “illuminating.”

Kris Koeffler, friend and colleague, put it best: “The thing that I’ll remember most is her sense of humor, that brilliance that she had.”

Her light, her friends say, will continue to shine long after she’s gone.

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