Almanac

Community - January 26, 2011

Judy Squier tells of her extraordinary life

by Marjorie Mader

Born without complete legs, Judy Squier, who lived in Portola Valley for 30 years, has traveled far, conquering physical handicaps with faith, courage, and amazing grace to lead an extraordinary life.

"I think God has made me a woman of hope who believes in miracles because I see what God has done in my life," she wrote in her new book. "He's taken what the world would reject ... and he has surprised us all."

As a "disabled child," she says, "I was excluded from life. I had a permanent seat on the sidelines. I never expected to get a college degree, be able to help other families struggling with disabilities, get married, and be capable of having and caring for my own children."

Her journey began 65 years ago when she was born with two stumps for legs with deformed feet.

Her parents were advised to put their daughter in an institution. They never considered it. She says they faced the responsibilities of raising their physically handicapped younger daughter with courage, determination, resourcefulness, and a strong faith in god.

Her major surgery took place at Shriners Hospital in Chicago when she was 10. Since then, she's had seven sets of artificial limbs at various ages. Now she is a full-time wheelchair user.

Her world opened up when she was admitted to the University of Illinois and a pilot program at Urbana, Illinois, for disabled veterans that also accepted students with disabilities. She majored in speech pathology, joined a sorority, was a wheelchair cheerleader, and went on to earn a master's degree.

During her junior year, she needed a ride home for vacation and got the ride from a friend of the family, David Squier. He was studying electrical engineering in graduate school. They started dating and wrote to each other daily when he moved to California to work with Lockheed.

During Easter vacation in 1968, she flew to California to interview for a speech pathologist position at Stanford Hospital. She returned home with a job offer, a diamond ring, and knowing that she and David would be married in three months — on June 8, 1968.

The Squiers moved to Portola Valley in 1975 and raised their three daughters — Emily, Betsy and Napthalie — in their two-story home near Alpine Hills Tennis and Swimming Club.

As their girls started school in Portola Valley, Judy gradually became involved in school activities, eventually serving two terms as co-president of the Portola Valley School District PTA.

After her husband's retirement, she and David traveled to Thailand, Romania, and Brazil to distribute free wheelchairs to disabled children and adults through the organization, Joni and Friends International Disability Center.

Reflecting on her life, she says: "I'm amazed when you can't use your legs, how you have to delegate and you have to have some verbal skills. My personality grew in areas that it would never have grown. ... If you have a positive attitude, enthusiasm, and good social skills, people are inspired to work alongside you and co-labor with you."

An unexpected honor came in 1991 when she received a national award in Washington, D.C., as part of the Family Research Council's effort to recognize individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the health and well-being of the American family.

In 2006, the Squiers moved from Portola Valley to Grants Pass, Oregon, fulfilling her husband's dream of retiring in Oregon. It gave her the gift of time to write her book, "His Majesty in Brokenness."

"The desire to write a book was planted when I was 13 and gave my first speech in Chicago," she says. "Someone in the audience said you must write a book.

"But, I didn't have anything to write. The calendar was empty and I had no life," she recalls.

Receiving the national award for contributions to the American family was a turning point. "I suddenly went from feeling like a reject to being celebrated. I felt there was a story to tell."

She had started keeping a journal when she was 10 and recovering from surgery during her six-month stay at Shriners Hospital in Chicago. She also collected her own life stories over the years.

She began writing her story and showed it to an experienced writer who advised her to take writing lessons. And she did. She took writing courses through UC Berkeley Extension and Palo Alto Adult Education, went to writers' conferences, and started freelancing.

Work on her book actually began in the early 1990s when she wrote a story a week for the popular "Life Stories" sessions, guided by Sheila Dunec and held in the Menlo Park Library.

"We were so humbled and inspired by Judy's stories week after week as she shared her life experiences with us," says Ms. Dunec. "Her life is a testament to her faith."

Judy realized in 2007 that she finally had a book, and it was three-fourths written. "I found my writing voice through writing, reflection, introspection and listening. The story comes from the heart and poignant moments in life."

Her Redwood City critique group of writers insisted she find a way to engage the reader in each of the 30 chapters. The result was her adding a "What About You" section to each of the chapters that jogs readers to think about their own lives.

The Squiers — Judy, David and Naphtalie — discovered there's a world of options for print-on-demand self-publishing. They chose the website, createspace.com, an arm of Amazon. The three worked together on the layouts, graphics, and picture selection for a week while vacationing in Capitola.

She has dedicated her book to "David, my beloved husband whose sacrificial love has been my ticket to an extraordinary life."

Visit judysquier.com for information about the book and how to order it.

Book signing

Judy Squier, longtime Portola Valley resident, returns to sign copies of her book, "His Majesty in Brokeness," on Thursday, Jan. 27, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Konditorei coffee shop and gathering place in the Ladera shopping center, 3130 Alpine Road. Patty Cullen, the Konditorei owner, was a student with Judy in Sheila Dunec's "Life Stories" class.

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