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Early in her childhood, Judith Conda was the teacher when playing school with her older sister, Patty Shisler.
Playtime was often when Patty discovered her special talents. She had a knack for numbers. Long division and complex multiplication came easily. Patty would spell words that she couldn’t use in a sentence. Even so, Patty’s developmental disabilities allowed her peers to outpace her in a traditional classroom setting. As the sisters grew up in New Jersey in the early 1950s, there were no special education standards, no intervention specialists. Not until after she and their mother joined Judith in northwest Ohio in 1993 did Patty find a community of true peers and caregivers outside her family.
Upon arrival, Patty immediately enrolled in Wood Lane, a network of services, activities, and residential communities for children and adults with special needs. Wood Lane is operated by the Wood County Board of Developmental Disabilities in Bowling Green, Ohio. In 1995, Patty moved into a group home operated by Wood Lane. Judith and her husband, Joe Conda, have always become part of Patty’s specialized households and were considered family to her housemates. Even after Patty’s death in September, 2011, they maintain involvement with the Elder Haus residents.
Many of the Wood Lane employees and administrators who were involved with or cared for Patty were students or alumni of Bowling Green State University. Judith and Joe were so impressed that they created scholarships in the College of Education and Human Development at BGSU as a tribute to Patty’s caregivers. They are now among the most loyal and generous supporters of the University.
Nearly 10 years after making the connection between Patty’s caregivers and BGSU, Joe and Judith Conda will be honored for their extraordinary service and generosity to this institution. They will be recognized for their lifetime of giving during the first Leadership Circle Gala, a new event held at BGSU to thank donors who annually give $1,000 or more to the University.
“My sister was very special. Because of her, some very nice things are happening on campus. And because of her, there will be people who will, perhaps, achieve goals that they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to fulfill. That’s Patty’s legacy,” Judith said.
The Condas now sponsor Literacy in the Park, an event held each March to celebrate children’s literature and encourage reading among local families. They give to Literacy in the Park because Patty’s reading level was essentially near to that of the books featured each year, Judith noted. “She would have loved to think that she made so many children smile,” she said.
The couple has also invested in the Counseling Center on campus. They have sponsored computer upgrades to simplify the intake process for BGSU students who seek services there and have funded programs designed to enhance other services. “Our intent is to help to retain BGSU students who are away from home and coping with mental illness, learning disabilities or other special needs,” Joe said.
Most recently, the Conda family committed an undesignated gift to the University to challenge others to allow BGSU to allocate funds where the need is the greatest.
Joe also serves as a member of the BGSU Foundation Board, and Judith serves on the Advocates Board for the College of Education and Human Development.
During her lifetime, Patty loved being the pupil in her sister’s “classroom.” Because of her, Judith later found herself in a real classroom as a special education teacher. At her sister’s memorial service in September, Judith remarked at the memorial service that Patty had her own lessons to share with those who knew and cared for her.
“Patty was a teacher, too,” Judith said. “We all learned from her.”