Underneath Julie Thorsheim’ s pleasant, soft-spoken demeanor lies a passionate advocate.
Over the years, it would be impossible to calculate the value of Julie’s advocacy work to LBSA. “She brings a quiet and consistent passion to this work” says Executive Director Sandi Gerdes. “I know if we ask people for help contacting legislators on behalf of the organization, Julie will always respond.” In addition to phone calls, letters and emails to legislators over the last two decades, Julie is consistently talking with others about LBSA’s story. Sandi’s favorite story to tell about Julie is a time when they were both at church in a larger gathering of people Sandi overheard someone talking about Laura Baker. When she turned around, she saw it was Julie. She then witnessed Julie moving around the room from group to group talking about the value and importance of the organization.
Julie recalls first being aware of LBSA back in the late 70s when she heard Carleton professor Robert Bonner give a moving presentation at St. Olaf about the inherent human worth and dignity of all individuals regardless of ability. He spoke about the everyday challenges of parenting children with physical or developmental disabilities. “That talk stuck with me”, Julie recalls. Julie added she had witnessed her younger sister and brother-in-law’s lives being totally altered with the birth of their first child, born with profound disabilities.
“They loved him to pieces.” Julie recalls about her sister and her husband’s dedication toward their son. “But they never got a good night’s sleep except when the child needed hospital care. “Unfortunately, her nephew died at age four. Julie also has an older brother whose first child was born with special needs. Now in his mid-fifties, her nephew is still physically strong, but his employment and housing opportunities have always been limited and he has needed extra support and guidance in every life stage.
The life stories of others around her influenced Julie to a career in social work, where she has served in the field with a special empathy for the needs of others. So, it’s not surprising that in 2002, at about the time she planned to retire from her position as a family therapist at Fairview Health Systems in Minneapolis she was asked to join the Board of Trustees at LBSA. Julie has been on the board ever since.
In addition to her work on the Board of Trustees, Julie has been a valuable ambassador for LBSA in many ways. She has recruited board members, hosted tables at the Gala, introduced friends and neighbors to LBSA and, of course, engaged in hundreds of hours of advocacy work.
Julie believes there are many things that make LBSA unique. These include, “The long history, of course. I also think LBSA is cutting edge. There is a focus on individual abilities, client’s sense of humor and what their interests are. And the organization has excellent leadership with Sandi and great board members with a wide range of backgrounds.” Julie goes on to add, “and I’m so impressed with the staff. The people working here are gifted and dedicated.”
Even in retirement, Julie has no difficulty staying busy. In addition to her work on behalf of LBSA, Julie enjoys spending time with her husband, four sons and four grandsons, cross country skiing, bicycling, swimming, traveling and volunteering at her church.
“And,” she adds with a smile, “Contacting congressmen and advocating for those without a voice.”