Flower Child Plants Seeds of Success in Students

Arpee Markarian

The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s gave Judi Apablaza what her parents could not – the determination and drive to achieve her goals of higher education and pursuing a career.

The mood of the tumultuous ’60s blended with her artistic ways to sculpt her into an independent, strong, and creative lady.

Apablaza was born into a blue-collar family in Illinois, on Aug. 3, 1946 as the only child of a railroad conductor and nurse.

She grew up on a farm where she spent some of her days happily helping out the family by tending to the cows, goats, chickens, and horses. Since she was surrounded by dirt roads in the outback, she was not able get out when it rained.

“I really enjoyed growing up and working on a farm,” Judi said. “It was a different way of life.”

She spent the rest of the days on vacation, traveling by car or train across the U.S. with her parents. Even the trips through the 111-degree desert of Arizona forced them to roll down the car windows. A packed lunch from mom of saltine crackers, bologna, bread, cheese and fruit offered comfort from the heat.

She moved to California with her parents in 1964 and then flew to the east coast after graduating from Eagle Rock High School.

Apablaza followed in her mother’s footsteps after completing a two-year nursing degree at St. Louis Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. This was just the beginning of her journey into a life dedicated to helping others.

During the two years that she worked in the nursing profession she became increasingly aware of her growing interest in theoretical fields, such as psychology and social science.

She knew that she did not necessarily want to work with patients in a hospital setting because she favored more one-on-one interactions with people.

“Being an introvert I knew that I didn’t want to ‘work the crowd’,” said Apablaza. This awareness led her to chase down other avenues of work like volunteering at a center for rape victims, battered women and children.

As she worked, she filled her youth with the past-times of a flower child of the ’60s.

With joy in her eyes and voice, Apablaza reclined in her black leather swivel chair and reached back to fond memories of attending the yearly Renaissance Faires, poetry readings at local coffee shops, concerts of Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan, becoming involved in grassroots causes, and expressing her creativity through her love of jewelry making.

Even the story of the man who ran off to Europe with jewelry she made evokes a chuckle. This man was supposed to have helped sell her craft, not steal it. The silver jewelry that weightlessly drapes around her neck displays her affinity for hand-made crafts.

The Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation Movements simultaneously engaged Judi, becoming the impetus that drove her desire to attain a bachelor’s degree. “I always felt cheated out of a bachelor’s degree,” said Apablaza. “My parents’ aspirations for a daughter were to get married, have kids and work in a bank. They didn’t want me to go to college because they were afraid that I would be influenced by evolution.”

Pepe, Apablaza’s husband of 39 years, moved to California from Chile at the age of 18, to pursue an education in the arts. He settled in Hollywood for many years, and attended Pasadena’s Art Center. Pepe and Judi met through a mutual friend in the neighborhood. A friendship ring sealed their connection on the second date. She knew it was serious and they married a year later in 1968.

After two years of marriage, their only son Marc was born. Left-handed like his mother, he grew up in California and followed the footsteps of his father, graduating from the Art Center in Pasadena and becoming an animator at Electronic Arts, the biggest video game publisher in the world.

With the support of her husband, Judi earned her bachelor’s degree from Cal State LA in 1982.

The career counseling she did soon after solidified her decision in returning to school three years later for a master’s degree in counseling.

“I think that career counseling is the most positive profession because you help people realize their potential,” said Apablaza.

These experiences paved the way for her role as Career Center Coordinator/Counselor at GCC. Since 1989, she has been helping students shift through inquiries about their current and future jobs, and about themselves. The resume workshops and career counseling classes she teaches provide insight and tools for self-discovery.

Mary Catherine Snyder, a former student, recalls taking Judi’s Career Counseling class, where she was given a battery of tests to find out about her strengths and interests.

“Most things in life begin with small steps,” said Snyder. “When I tiptoed into the GCC Counseling Department, I had no idea of the amazing life I would be living today.”

Snyder went on to complete her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena.

While supporting their son through art school (at $80,000/year), Pepe was laid off from the company where he worked as a Graphic Designer/Commercial Artist for 21 years. At the same, time that Apablaza was counseling and teaching classes, she was heading up a new program at the GCC Career Center.

“This was one of the most stressful times in my life,” said Apablaza. “I was the sole supporter of my family for the ten months my husband was out of work.”

Next year Apablaza will celebrate her 20th anniversary as a Career Counselor at GCC.
Anna Lafflam, colleague and friend of many years, recognizes her as a gracious lady.

“She’s a strong woman. She impresses me with her ability to connect with students,” said Lafflam. “She motivates and inspires them [students] to make their dreams a reality, always giving that special touch to everything. She loves harmony, and makes sure that there is harmony.”

In the coastal community of Cambria, amidst the forests, seascapes, and farmland, there is a small, two-story cottage with stone trim, surrounded by a white picket fence. The stained-glass front door opens into a country-style kitchen. A few feet away, in the small bathroom, sits an old-fashioned, claw-footed bath tub. Upstairs, a view of the big English backyard is seen through the window of a studio-style bedroom.

This turn-of-the century home is where the Apablazas’ will retire to in 2011. In this hamlet, the desire to reconnect with one’s artistic roots comes naturally. Envisioning herself as a clerk in the cute little shops, or as a tour guide at the Hearst Castle a few miles away, or a student in art classes, she said, “I am still an ‘artist’ with some training…maybe I can be another Grandma Moses.”