Old Pueblo Abuelo: Former Arizona advisor Judy Sorensen was the light

Judy Sorensen Family Photo.

This is the 38th installment of “Old Pueblo Abuelo,” a thought on positive things happening in the Old Pueblo from a sometimes cranky and often times humorous grandfather actually born in Tucson and writing from my desk in Tucson, the Old Pueblo.

Judy Sorensen was the light. She was a lamppost on a foggy night, a lighthouse to protect us from the rocks on the shore. She was all that and more. For over 30 years, Judy gave safe passage to hundreds, if not thousands of students at the University of Arizona, hoping to one day be half the mentor she was.

Entering college is difficult enough. Many have no friends and the campus seems to never end. When things get rough, many advisors fail to have the stuff to get you through the week, much a less a semester, and then another and then another, but Judy was the one to seek.

She had every class, every professor and every avenue ready for the student sitting next to her at her desk, and another for the one who was next. She was the light of the Education Department, more specifically, the Exercise and Sports Sciences Department. It was appropriate to have her office be the cornerstone of the Ina Gittings Building, from one legend to another.

If you wanted to become a coach or a PE teacher, you knew her because she knew you. My time there was in the early to mid-1980s, a skinny kid who had just moved back to the Old Pueblo from a place they call Maryland. I had no idea how to register for classes, I turned my back on lawyering and art school. I took a risk and here I was, sitting at her desk.

She had seen my high school transcripts, but there was no questioning or judgements on how my choice to be a teacher was beneath the script others had written. She told me I was needed. She told me which classes to take and when, and when the time was right, she snuck in an Adaptive Physical Education class in there. She knew what I didn’t know.

It was a great time to be taking classes in Gittings. I might forget a name or two, but the names are familiar to those who know. Mark Brunenkant, Jerry Carrillo, Tony Gabusi, Jim Mentz, Kim Bird, Brian Peabody, Michael Castaneda and Earl Leach. One of our professors, who passed away in 2010, Dr. Donna Mae Miller, told me she had never had a group like this and she expected to see our names in print.

Former Arizona volleyball coach and professor Kathryn R.E. Russell introduced me to my future wife, Jane, in one of her classes and Jane has also been a teacher for several decades. Judy attended our wedding.

I have been hearing more and more stories of Judy’s influence on them since her passing and hundreds of athletes also benefited from her guidance, but Arizona no longer offers a teaching path through the Exercise and Sports Sciences Department. That era ended and it will be gone for good once we all retire.

Judy passed away on January 24 at the age of 81.


My former college mate and current Physical Educator Lisa Breit with Dr. Kathryn R.E. Russell and Judy Sorensen. (Lisa Breit Photo)

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