Judith Blanton Wilkerson, co-publisher of the Pleasanton Express, passed away peacefully at her home in Austin, surrounded by her grandchildren and children. Judy was born in Temple, on April 5, 1930, to Katherine and Melvin “Buddy” Blanton. As Judy departed from this earth, her children sang Nat King Cole’s “Unforgettable” in off-key notes.
Following high school, Judy left Temple and briefly attended Southwestern University in Georgetown before leaving for her true love, the University of Texas in Austin. It is there that she met the love of her life, William “Bill” Wilkerson. They met in the UT Tower where classes were still held, at a time when WWII vets were coming to UT in droves. Bill and Judy had a date every single day until they were married, September 3, 1950. Bill wrote Judy a love note every birthday and anniversary signing off with lines like, “I loved you dearly in 1949 but love you even more today. Here’s to life and enjoyment for us for over six decades. Let’s have fun together for many more years to come. All my love, Bill.”
In 1951, Bill joined the U.S. Air Force at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, New York during the Korean Conflict, which took his bride Judy to the “Big Apple.” Judy served as office manager for a New York city radio station. They grew to love the cultural jewels of New York City. In their tour as “Damn Yankees,” they would attend Broadway plays for $1.70, go to New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers games, museums, and picnics in Central Park.
In 1956, they returned to Comanche to enter into the Comanche Chief newspaper family which was owned by J.C. and May Wilkerson. Three children were born and raised in this newspaper family – David, Katie and Noel. The Wilkersons also bought the De Leon Free Press, which they owned and served as publishers until 1998.
In 1974, Judy and Bill sold their interest in the Chief and purchased the Pleasanton Express newspaper. Their credo at the Pleasanton Express, “Let’s get the best product out and have as much fun as we can!” still stands today. Judith served as co-publisher until her death with her daughter, Noel Wilkerson Holmes. Over the past 45 years, the newspaper has won hundreds of awards from the South Texas Press Association (STPA) and Texas Press Association (TPA) and three Sweepstakes wins from the Gulf Coast Association.
Both Judy and Bill Wilkerson were past-presidents of South Texas Press Association (Judy – 1981-82 and Bill – 1968-69). Judy and Bill are the only husband and wife team ever to be elected to serve as presidents of the South Texas Press Association. Bill, who was known in the STPA world as “Wild Bill,” died on April 30, 2015. Judy was his rock and an inspiration for all young women entering the newspaper profession. While Judy’s focus was on the news side of the newspaper, Bill’s focus was on making sure the news hole was paid for. So, it was fitting to rename the STPA’s Sweepstakes award after Judy and Bill, which encompasses all aspects of the newspaper. Today the highest award handed out at STPA is named the Judy and Bill Wilkerson STPA Sweepstakes Award.
Judy and Bill were awarded with the STPA Distinguished Service Award, which later became the Chester Evans award in 1992, given for longtime and dedicated service to STPA. They received the Red Gibson Award – Friend of STPA given for longtime friendship to STPA. Every year, the couple invested in sending the entire Pleasanton Express team members and their families to attend STPA as a thank you for their dedication to community journalism and as a time for learning, fun, and celebration of a job well done. Judy also served on the Texas Press Association Board and the South Texas Press Association Board.
“Judy Wilkerson is one of the most principled journalists I’ve ever encountered,” said Port Aransas South Jetty Owner/ Editor/Co-Publisher Mary Judson. “As a journalist, she stood up for those who felt they didn’t have a voice, or whose voices were quieted by the powerful. She was and is an outspoken champion for women. She was my inspiration as a young journalist in a male-dominated world.”
Judy threw herself into action when she moved to Pleasanton, immediately starting a clean-up Pleasanton campaign particularly motivating businesses along Hwy 281 to help make the town beautiful. In less than three years in Pleasanton, Judy became active in many associations and serving on boards. In 1977, Judy was president of the Cowboy Homecoming Association and voted Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce Woman of the Year. In 1985, Bill and Judy were named Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce Couple of the Year.
Noting that 1984’s Couple of the Year was Elo and the late Hilda Haverlah, Judy and Bill Wilkerson, explained, “We’re in fabulous company!” When the couple received the award they were both apronclad and in the kitchen where they helped Atascosa County Troupe cook and prepare the food for the Pleasanton Chamber Banquet as they did for years. They said they were taken by surprise when Woman’s Club president Sue Dean began reading her presentation. In 1985 Dean told banquet guests that the words “warm, caring, understanding, thoughtful, hardworking and cheerful” all applied to the Wilkersons. Concluding, Dean said, “South Texas is a better place to live because Bill and Judy Wilkerson came to Pleasanton!”
In their 13 years in Pleasanton and Atascosa County, Bill and Judy generously lent their time, energy and resources, physically and happily, supporting countless projects in the city and in the county. They were members of the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce where Judy served as president dedicating most of her time to organizing and working on a successful Cowboy Homecoming festival. Judy worked exhaustively to establish the Atascosa County River Park and the Longhorn Museum.
Both Judy and Bill wholeheartedly supported the Willie Nelson Longhorn Museum benefit concert in the 1980s. As supporters of ACT, they worked diligently to help raise funds to keep local theatre alive.
The Wilkersons were members of the Vocational Office Education board and Judy served on the Atascosa County Drug Board. She also served several terms as Atascosa County Democratic Chairman and served as a member of the Texas Delegation to the National Democratic Convention in 1981.
They were communicants at All Saints’ Episcopal Church where Bill served as senior warden and Judy was on the Bishop’s Committee. They won numerous recognitions from the Pleasanton Young Farmers, the GFWC/ TFWC Woman’s Club of Pleasanton, Project Headstart,
Cancer Society, the Young Homemakers of Texas, ACT, the Pleasanton Lions Club and the Optimist Club, to name a few.
Under the Wilkerson’s ownership, the Pleasanton Express grew from a staff of six and 24 pages to a staff of 20, plus an averaged 48 pages making it one of the five largest weeklies in the State of Texas. Judy regularly cooked homemade meals for late Tuesday nights at the newspaper while also serving as co-publisher and columnist of “Won’t You Join Me.” (See page 4A for Judy’s first column.)
While remaining publishers and owners of the Pleasanton Express, Bill and Judy retired from the everyday newspaper grind in 1989 and moved to their beloved Austin, where they lived retirement to the fullest -feeding the homeless under the bridges, tending a community garden at Town Lake and holding season tickets to UT Football, Men’s Basketball and Baseball, and Women’s Basketball and Volleyball. They took Austin’s slogan “Keep Austin Weird” to heart by fully emerging themselves in the local culture. But, a huge part of their heart always remained in Atascosa County.
Judy leaves behind a loving family including sister Carol Blanton Greenlee, children David B. Wilkerson and wife, Sherry Sekula Wilkerson, Katie Wilkerson Carnes and husband, Les Carnes, Noel Wilkerson Holmes and husband, Noel Spencer Holmes, grandchildren William Wilkerson, Katherine Wilkerson, Will Holmes, Zach Holmes, great-granddaughter Aaliyah Wilkerson Palmer and nieces and nephews, Marsha Wilkerson Williams, Buzz Barton, Bill Barton, Michael Wimert, David Wimert and Brooke Wimert Hansen, David Greenlee and Katherine Greenlee Ulhorn. Judy is pre-deceased by her parents, eldest sister, Patricia Blanton Wimert and her beloved Bill.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Texas Lion’s Camp in Kerrville, in memory of Judith Wilkerson. The camp is one of the world’s premier summer camps for children. The Texas Lions Camp was founded in 1949 and dedicated to the perpetual enjoyment of children who have physical disabilities. Today, TLC serves about 1,500 excited campers per summer and has provided services to more than 70,000 since its inception. lionscamp.com/
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A Celebration of Life will be held on the beach in Port Aransas on July 20.