HOLMEN, Wis. (WXOW) – On a farm, stuffed with glitter and lace, is the fairy godmother of Holmen, Wisconsin. Judy Wolff gave the girls ball gowns and wedding dresses for free, or at a fraction of the cost.
“A little girl says – ‘I’ve never been a princess before!’” Judy laughs. “She was spinning and just… This is the thank you I get. I love that.
The money the girls pay for some of the dresses is used to cover the cost of storing Judy’s huge collection of dresses in several rental units. “So it’s not one thing to get rich,” she said. It’s more like a breakeven point if you can. It all started with a small collection when Judy saw a second life for her daughter’s abandoned evening dresses.
Many dresses are donated or Judy buys them herself. She became a self-taught dry cleaning expert and expert seamstress. She’s even known to make edits for free. “I mean, there isn’t a dress that you can’t use. If there’s something wrong with it, you can rip it up and do something else with it,” Judy laughs.
And she arranges the lessons between the tulle. “I tell them (girls),” said Judy. “All I’m asking is that you pay it up front. Give the dress to someone else when you’re done with it.”
She especially wants teens to learn how to give back, so she spends time teaching them how to sew tiny dresses for stillborn babies, or premies, that don’t survive. “I don’t want to be grateful or anything, what I find really cool is the photographers coming in and taking pictures (of babies). They did it for my daughter.”
Some of Judy’s wedding dresses have stubborn stains or the style is a bit too dated, so she turns them into miniature angel dresses, something that wasn’t available on the day her granddaughter was stillborn. . “When I saw that poor little girl with that diaper three times the size of her laying there wrapped in a blanket – I couldn’t believe it.”
Teaching these young women to sew angel dresses is an easy task for Judy. “It heals. It helps, ”she says. Judy worked in the school system until she was permanently disabled in 2002. “It was tough,” Judy admitted. “I mean – I have a cabinet full of drugs that I need to take.”
Judy is plagued by health issues because she was a 9/11 volunteer, working about four blocks from Ground Zero where she and thousands of others were exposed to toxic dust. She keeps in touch with the volunteers she has worked with and says many of them are sick as well. “The numbers are so high. Last week five of them died of cancer,” she added sadly.
And even though she can’t earn a paycheck like before, Judy calls out the job she does – it’s worth it. And says it helped her navigate the peaks and valleys of PTSD. “I still don’t regret being there,” she said. “I look at all the people I could help. Even though I’m sick. There were a lot of people I could help while I was there.”
Her perspective is sparse and refreshing, and one might wonder – where did this volunterissm seed first germinate? Judy said it was something she learned from her parents. “My father was a volunteer firefighter and my mother always taught us, doing for others doesn’t always do it for you.”
To date, Judy has donated 500 dresses. And the angel dresses she makes are donated to local hospitals, but she says she has never spoken to a family who received one. This is because she wants to remain anonymous, a testament to who Judy is. You can read more about her wedding and prom dress plans on Facebook. Click here for Guardian angel robe rental or the Beautiful butterfly project ball.
If you know someone who is making a positive difference in your community, nominate them for a Jefferson Award.