Death of a Trailblazing St. Joe Businesswoman

While women from all walks of life have struggled to break through the proverbial glass ceiling, one woman from St. Joseph shattered any concept that women could not have, and exhibit, incredible power. The community of Michigan’s Great Southwest has, sadly, lost that woman today as we learn of the death of Judy Zacha.

As the founder, owner and CEO of Beacon Services of St. Joseph which eventually evolved into the current day Elwood Staffing headed up by her own daughter Cathy Averill, Judy Zacha charted a course for entrepreneurial success from the very day she decided to go into business for herself, and she never looked back.

Her death today is bringing huge response from social media followers, especially following the message from Judy’s granddaughter and Cathy’s daughter, Samantha Averill who broke the news to the world saying:

Today Heaven gained the strongest woman I have ever known. My nana was my inspiration, my role model and my rock. Judy Zacha lived life to the fullest and changed the lives of everyone she met. For those of you who had the privilege to meet her, you know exactly what I mean. As a business woman and a grandmother she was the best there was. Though she can’t be here to give the finger playing monopoly or cheering me on in my life adventures, knowing I have an amazing angel on my side helps. I was told once that I’m exactly like my nana, to this day that’s the best compliment I have ever received. I love you Nana, Rest In Peace JAZ I know you will forever be watching over me.

A story by Luanne Crayton seventeen years ago in Staffing Success magazine dramatically captured the essence of Judy Zacha. Here’s a bit of what Crayton had to say:

Once you meet Judy Zacha, you won’t soon forget her. Energetic, extroverted, and ebullient, she loves to laugh and is adept at making others laugh along with her. But beneath the fun-loving exterior lies a gutsy competitor who built a successful staffing business from the ground up. Unlike the hearts of many such competitors, however, her’s is filled with warmth — she loves people, and her vision for the staffing industry is that it be renowned for helping people.

Crayton was writing on the occasion of Zacha’s inauguration into the role of President of the American Staffing Association at the organization’s 34th Annual Convention & Expo in October of 2000.

Judy’s career in staffing began some 47 years ago when, after several years of teaching school followed by a break from the workforce. She was first hired as a receptionist for a staffing firm, but waste little time in making her mark, working her way up the corporate ladder and bringing in millions of dollars of business along the way.

One day, about 10 years later and seemingly out of the blue, she ended up being fired, but rather than sit on the sidelines licking her wounds, Judy Zacha grabbed the brass ring and launched her own such agency, naming it Beacon Services. She would grow the agency to include offices in Grand Rapids, Holland, South Haven and Niles along the way with nearly 40 employees by the time she garnered her association’s top job as President of the American Staffing Association.

Judy was routinely recognized for her trailblazing attitude and leadership acumen, having earned honors including such titles as Businesswoman of the Year by the YWCA, and one of the Top 25 Business Owners in Michigan as recognized by the National Association for Women Business Owners. True to her form, ever working to break that glass ceiling, Judy was also the first female member of the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph Rotary Club.

Another friend on social media, Amber Layman, shared her condolences with family members by taking time to share her impression of Judy, writing:

An incredibly funny, smart, bold, and insanely fashionable woman left our world today. She could capture the room with a one finger salute while also eloquently standing resolute as a dynamic business women, community leader, family matriarch, and everyone’s friend.

I asked her once how she did it all, how did she manage to build a community empire? How did she manage to create a national footprint where female entrepreneurs had a seat at the table? How did you manage to be a wife and mom through it all?

She told me- it’s what they don’t see that should scare them. If only they knew what women like us are truly capable of- thats how you manage it.

That has stuck with me all these years.

It wasn’t all about business for Judy Zacha. As she told magazine writer Luanne Crayton, “Being a wife, mother, and grandmother are the most important roles in my life, and knowing that my friends can count on my loyalty is important too.”

As Crayton said in the opening of her story, “Once you meet Judy Zacha, you won’t soon forget her.” Those who knew her, worked for her, partied with her, loved her or simply crossed paths with her will not soon forget the human dynamo that she was and the trails that she blazed for many in the course of her life, tragically cut short today.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time. RIP Judy Zacha. Thanks for leading the way for so many in our community.

In the photo accompanying this story on Moody on the, Judy is shown in the middle with her daughter Cathy on the left and granddaughter Samantha on the right.