Judson Community Connections, Full Circle to a Career

Community Wellness Director Diane Menges grew up dining in Wade Park Manor and singing at Judson Park, and she is now impacting the lives of many members she has known through the ages.

Diane Menges lives by the motto, “Sing, dance, laugh, love!” and her role as Director of Community Wellness for Judson’s three campuses is a happenstance culmination of growing up with family lunches and dinners at the Wade Park Manor (Judson Manor’s dining venue) and performing in choirs throughout the years at the nonprofit Baptist Home of Northern Ohio, which eventually became Judson Park. 

Diane dials back to her preschool and early elementary years when her grandfather, a Cleveland Orchestra violinist, and wife, Gladys Damon, would take her and her family to the Manor’s elegant dining room to share meals with Gladys’ mother. They warmly called her “Grandma Damon,” and visiting her Wade Park Manor residence was a treat. “I always called it Damon’s Restaurant,” Diane says, reminding that she was only six years old and thought her great-grandmother certainly must own the fine place. Today, she happens upon members who have become friends over the years when she stops at “this amazing place,” which holds its historic rose-and-white aesthetic. 

“What makes this job very special to me is that at all three campuses, I know people from the time I was a little kid,” she relates. “Some were the parents of good friends. My former father-in-law was a doctor, and many Judson residents were his patients once.” She recalls when a new resident who was a longtime member of First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland moved into Judson Park, where Diane grew up singing in the choir through adulthood, eventually serving as a soloist and performing at Judson campuses. “I saw her in the hallway and gave her a huge hug,” she says. “Because I was raised in this area and my life has taken me so many places, I feel a personal tie to this place and the Judson ‘family.’”

Memory Lane 

 “I’m a very nostalgic person, and whenever my life takes me to a memory or place where I’ve been before where it was a good experience…I want to be part of that,” Diane says. Family, music, performance, art, and activity contribute to a lifelong score of interludes at Judson. Aside from visiting Grandma Damon at Wade Park Manor, Diane sang in the children’s choir at First Baptist Church and recalls performing Christmas carols for residents at Judson, then the Baptist Women’s Home — and today, Judson Park. “My recollection is singing in the foyer and the living room, which had a piano. “Everyone would sit by the fireplace,” she describes, “and the Mansion was beautifully decorated for the  holiday season.”  As an adult, Diane returned to sing for our Park residents as a soloist with the choirs of both First Baptist Church and Plymouth Church of Shaker Heights, where she is currently the soprano soloist, “I loved seeing residents singing along with us. Even those who could not verbalize or sing along showed their gratitude and enjoyment by the smiles on their faces.” After performances, We would take time with each resident, sharing in conversation or just offering a warm greeting of welcome and gratitude for their presence. “It was always more than performing,” says Diane, a professional singer. “I love touching people in that way and the reciprocal nature of performing, and I am glad I can enrich lives further in my current role with Judson. Judson provides lots of opportunities to do that.” 

The Judson connection runs deep. For years, while raising her three children (her oldest son lives in New York City; her daughter is in Portland, Maine, and her youngest son is preparing to finish college at OSU), Diane performed musical programs at the South Franklin Circle and Judson Park campuses. This connection led to a part-time position as a Weekend Activity Person at Crane House. After earning a personal training certification — building on years of performing music and leading fitness classes for all ages and stages — she was hired 2015 as a Fitness Specialist at Judson. In 2018, Diane took on her current role as Director of Community Wellness, overseeing Wellness at the 3 Judson campuses. Diane says, “It feels so rewarding to have touched these campuses in some way during my life and then to end up here full-time.” 

An Old Soul 

You’ll find Diane singing whenever and wherever possible. “Music and singing is really my first love,” she quips. She also enjoys biking, playing cards, listening to the Big Band greats, and dancing. “I have a smidgen of ballroom dance experience,” she adds. Any opportunity to attend a concert at Severance Hall and Diane is all in. “I tell people I was born in the wrong era,” she says lightheartedly, as she feels so comfortable and at ease relating to the residents at the Judson campuses. 

Diane is personally committed to Judson, its members, and the community’s wellbeing. Since becoming Wellness Director, she has overseen several important renovations, including relining South Franklin Circle and Judson Park pools, overhauling the fitness studio at Judson Manor, and improvements set to begin at Judson Park. “This year, we are introducing some special programs by bringing in outside instructors for dance and movement classes,” she says — a sneak peek of a series of 8-week sessions to add a bit of song, dance, laughter, and love to the mix, which is her calling card. 

She says, “Working for Judson and these special connections has made my job here so meaningful on a personal level.” 

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