OLLI Student Profile: Judith Wenker

Judith Wenker

Judith Wenker

The third time living in San Diego has definitely been the charm for OLLI at SDSU member Judith Wenker.

“I’ve been reincarnated; I’m not leaving,” said Wenker, a retired attorney with more than 30 years of experience who became an OLLI member at SDSU in 2005 and served on its first advisory board.

“I love lifelong learning,” she added. “I find it so stimulating. Our teachers can tell us about subjects without the stresses and strains of trying to take detailed notes for final exams as when we were younger.”

With the OLLI at SDSU program, there are no tests, grades, or exams – just the chance to recapture the thrill of intellectual growth and the camaraderie created by exciting discussions with curious fellow learners age 50 and better.

“I think it’s a great program,” Wenker said. “The classes are attuned to us. Our teachers say they love teaching us because we want to learn about what they have to say.”

Wenker, who taught five years before attending law school at the University of San Diego from 1972-76, also stays involved with OLLI at SDSU by serving on the curriculum committee.

“The curriculum is a lot more varied now (than 10 years ago),” she said. “The curriculum committee is close to my heart because I have taught. It’s great to be able to contribute to the OLLI program.”

A native of Wichita, Kansas but raised primarily in Seattle, Wenker came to San Diego for the first time after graduating from Seattle University with a teaching major. Her first job out of college was teaching kindergarten for two years at an economically-challenged school in the San Diego Unified School District.

“In those days, federal money was flowing and we had teacher’s aides,” she said. “It was probably a lot easier than it is now. Kindergarten students love their teacher. We even planted a garden; our students had never seen fresh vegetables. It was fun.”

Needing two years of experience before being able to teach overseas in the Defense Department, Wenker then went on to teach two years of kindergarten and one year of first grade at an Air Force base in England.

Next, she came back to San Diego for the second time to attend USD School of Law. She attended night classes while also working full-time for a federal magistrate.

After graduating in the top 10 percent of her class and passing the California bar exam, she moved to Washington, D.C. to work for the federal government. While there, she worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), representing the USDA at courts of appeals arguments and Environmental Protection Agency administrative hearings.

“I thought it would be fun to have a career in politics and work on Capitol Hill. Now I wonder, ‘What was I thinking?’” she said with a laugh.

In 1981, she returned to the West Coast to become an in-house counsel with Getty Oil Co. in Los Angeles. Three years later, Texaco Inc. bought Getty Oil and Wenker began a 17-year-career with Texaco Inc. in Houston, counseling company management in a practice that focused largely on environmental and safety issues, but also included labor/employment, oil, and gas lease issues.

In 2001, when Chevron bought Texaco, she opted to take an early retirement package and returned to San Diego for the third and (hopefully) final time.

Since returning “home,” she has become active with such nonprofits as ElderHelp of San Diego, Elementary Institute of Science, and the Neighborhood House Association. She’s also a member of the San Diego Women’s Foundation and a past board member of the Women’s Environmental Council.

On top of it all, her involvement with OLLI at SDSU also keeps Wenker active.

“I’ve met a lot of great people through OLLI,” she concluded.