High-school sweethearts build life together

Judy Van Gilder has worked as a financial planner for more than 10 years. (Photo by Sara Ortega)

Judy Van Gilder has worked as a financial planner for more than 10 years. (Photo by Sara Ortega)

After being voted cutest couple in 1974, Larry and Judy Van Gilder married shortly after graduation. Judy, who has worked as a financial planner at MassMutual for more than 10 years, said her two greatest accomplishments are her family and receiving her degree as a non-traditional student.

“My family has always been the most important thing in my life,” she said. “Raising two happy, healthy children is the greatest. I think second is probably acquiring a degree at an older age as a returning student.”

Four years after graduation, the high school sweethearts moved to Wyoming so Larry could pursue his career in petroleum drilling. Judy worked at home raising two daughters for nine years and then owned a dry cleaning business after her second daughter was old enough to attend school.

“We had only planned to live in Wyoming for two years and it just extended and extended,” she said.

But Judy was no stranger to living in new places. As a child, she moved around with her parents and lived in Arizona, Alaska, New Mexico and Colorado. She lived in Alaska for her sixth-grade year.

“It was a cold and wild frontier, I would say,” she said. “It was just the starting of the oil boom back then. It was pretty wild, nothing like West Texas. I’ve heard Alaska’s changed a lot; I would like to go back and see it.”

After spending 14 years in Wyoming, the Van Gilders moved back to Lubbock. Judy said she had always hoped to move back to the area where she and Larry went to high school.

While back in Lubbock, Judy worked as a substitute teacher for the Frenship School District while working towards a bachelor’s degree in financial planning. She finished her degree when she was 41.

“Well, that was something that I had always had a goal to do, to at some point acquire a degree, and when I started back at Tech, I had taken classes along the way at a community college,” Judy said. “But when I started at Tech, I knew I wanted to be in the business area, but I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know I was going to be led to get into financial planning but it just kind of happened.”

She graduated in 1997. Judy said she had her internship at MassMutual and has stayed on ever since.

“I specialize in working with women 50 and better, that’s the way I put it,” she said. “It found me; it just seems like that’s the people who enjoy working with me.”

Outside of work and spending time with their family, Judy said she and her husband enjoy traveling.

“This year, all of our plans are centered on being here for our, grandchildren but if we can sneak a trip in, we definitely will.”

The couple is expecting their second grandchild in August.

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