‘Women have a lot to contribute’: Floyd County reverend receives Eastern Kentucky Leadership Award

Published: Apr. 23, 2021 at 10:57 PM EDT
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PRESTONSBURG, Ky. (WYMT) - The COVID-19 pandemic comes with many stories of heartbreak and despair. Through those stories, there have been a number of people working to fill the cracks and put the world back together, one story at a time.

Reverend Sister Judy Yunker’s story is one of striving, serving, and smiling through it all.

Yunker, 80, has been serving the people of Floyd County for years, recently creating a place for herself in the Prestonsburg community through her work at St. James Episcopal Church and the Fishes and Loaves Food Pantry.

However, her story starts many years before, as she was sparked to make a change in a place where being involved was not always possible or even permitted.

“In the 50s, in most Catholic schools, the high schools the girls couldn’t be in anything. You couldn’t play in the orchestra, you couldn’t be in any sports. Just for boys,” she said. “I kind of all of a sudden realized that I was tired of being angry at the Catholic Church for the role of women. And that I can become an Episcopalian and still be a member of the community. So, that’s what I did.”

Yunker took that passion from Evansville, Indiana, and found a place to channel it, becoming involved in education at Mountain Christian Academy and joining the Floyd County Rescue Squad. After teaching for years and serving as principal, she decided to take a bigger step in her faith once she retired in 2011.

“I just felt that women have a lot to contribute to helping others,” she said.

Since gaining her priesthood, Yunker remains devoted to keeping the pantry going and serving while shining her light for those around her.

“I think you have to work together because people are so talented. And you have to... a leader has to work at bringing out and convincing the people around you that they can do and want to do,” she said.

She said the secret to her life is simple: Be happy and help make others happy.

“And they have to have compassion,” she said. “I think of the Dalai Lama’s definition. He says, if a person is under a rock, empathy would say, ‘Well, you get under the rock to feel what that person is feeling.’ But that’s not the goal. The goal is compassion. To take off the rock.”

Even through her own low points in life, she said it is always important to lift people up.

“I just take one day at a time. I feel good. I’ve had cancer, I’m six years out, and I feel better than I felt in many years,” she said. “I think the biggest thing is to just be happy all the way through. You know, as it gets harder to walk you just keep on walking ‘til you can’t walk.”

For her service to the community, even as the pandemic made things more difficult for the ministry, Yunker is a 2021 East Kentucky Leadership Award winner.

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