Jill Judice: Her Way - A Fuller House - Cajun Style
Aug 15, 2017 03:28PM ● Published by Marisa Olson
When most people think of Southern Cajun culture, images of Mardi Gras, two-steppin’, crawfish boils, and the fleur-de-lis leap to mind. However, these outward expressions arise from a more private, profound source rarely celebrated: the Cajun home itself. Here we find the women, the mothers and grandmothers of Acadiana, who keep the culture and its traditions alive.
The deeper meaning of Cajun culture, its unshakable continuity and resilience, sinks its roots in ancestral values. Cajun women continue to raise strong, emotionally bonded families who revere their heritage, remain loyal to community and adhere to their Catholic roots. Even in the modern Cajun home, echoes of the past can be traced in the lifestyle and attitudes that are faithfully passed down from mother to daughter and from father to son. The kitchen is where children still learn love for family, food, community, and where members gather for warmth, humor, conversation, and love.
A Lafayette native, Jill Judice is a wife, mother of nine, and grandmother. She is but one of many matriarchs here in Acadiana that play a central role in the preservation of our culture’s identity. She is the unofficial poster child of the modern Cajun mother. Humble, caring, resourceful, and giving—she seeks no accolades or fame, but merely to be there—in the present—for and with her family and friends. In keeping with her maternal ancestors, Jill has forged powerful ties with her children and grandchild, and taught them to view their community as extended family. Six of her children are grown, but the three youngest, Jace (11), Joshua (14), and Jacques (17) are still in school. Grandson Benjamin [a toddler of 2 and future linebacker], spends his days at grandma’s house
while his mom Jayne (Jill’s eldest daughter) works as a registered nurse. While most traditional southern grandmothers instinctively help with the raising of the next generation, Jayne explains: “Mom loves having the entire family around her. Although most of us are grown and living on our own, mom makes us feel like we’re never far from home. She keeps us close and we love that… it’s a great feeling.”
Jill’s temperament and sensibilities exemplify the best of the female Cajun character, and in the classic French way, she radiates easy warmth, good humor and hospitality. She is the heartbeat of her home, fiercely devoted to family, down to earth, and breaks easily into laughter or tears. With Jill, what you see is what you get. She is a self-described “softy” when it comes to her children, especially her grandson, and lives to indulge them.
Organized and tidy (with nine children, a woman has to be), she keeps a spotless house, and spends almost every available moment in the kitchen, cooking, baking, and perfecting her world finest banana bread. Food is love, especially for the Cajun woman. Daughter Jayne marvels how her mother stays in perpetual motion: “I don’t know where her energy comes from, she just keeps going, and never asks for help.”
While Jill is the heartbeat of her home, husband Roch is head of the family. A hard working industrious man, and a natural born leader, he maintains the domestic order and enforces discipline. Roch owns Judice Fun Jumps, and is a regional sales representative for a global communications company. When in town, he works out of his home office, while Jill keeps house, and stays heavily involved with her children school and extracurricular activities. Jill explains: “Since I was a young girl, I knew I wanted to have a large family and be a homemaker. It’s what I love and who I am. I’m so fortunate that Roch supports me in this way.”
Jayne describes her parents as the perfect match. Her mother is sensitive, patient, kind, and very calm, whereas her father is the provider, “strict, tough, and to the point.” He will “tell it to you like it is, not what you want to hear!”
While each plays a different role in the family dynamic; the love and respect they share for each other is obvious—and together, they are an unstoppable team.
[Jayne] Mom has never known a stranger, and has always had an open door policy where everyone is welcome. She loves cooking, not just for our family, but for everyone, and is famous for her baking and homemade meals. (My favorite was and still is her split pea and ham soup!)
We lived a block from Woodvale Elementary, and I used to walk home from school every day with one of my girlfriends. Mom always had food simmering on the stove, and the house smelled amazing when we walked through the door. She always insisted my friends join us, so we’d visit around the table. Just yesterday, one of my girlfriends asked if my mom still cooked like she used to when we were kids. I said ‘every day.’ Except now, my son Benjamin, Jace, Joshua and Jacques benefit!
Lifelong friend, Shelly Reese Gaspard, recounts how Jill and Roch fell in love: Although they grew up in the same neighborhood, Jill didn’t get to know Roch until their sophomore year at Northside High School. She was a cheerleader. He played for the football team. At first, Jill wasn’t “that crazy” about him, and sometimes was annoyed by his unannounced visits to her house. At times, she was also frustrated by her mother’s habit of asking the smitten young man to stay for supper.
Momma! Why do you encourage him?
Oh, just give him a chance! Her mother would say, chuckling to herself.
Roch patiently courted the pretty girl next door until she finally realized what her mother already knew - that he was the one for her, and would make an excellent husband and father. Even as a teenager, Roch was known for his charming persistence and powers of persuasion. Once Jill made up her mind – and heart – the two became inseparable.
After 31 years of marriage, Roch’s love and admiration for his wife continues to deepen and intensify:
My wife is loving, beautiful and kind, and she has raised nine, exceptionally compassionate and loving children. In our home, we have a rule that no one leaves the house or hangs up the phone without saying “I love you.” Over the years, we’ve received several calls from schoolteachers, telling us that one of our children hugged them, or said that they loved them. But my wife is also strong. It takes a special strength to raise nine children in today’s world. Jill is just like my own mother, whom I lost 20 years ago. She has a tremendous spirit. She is the foundation of our home.”
Despite the trials and hard times all families experience, Jill and Roch are fully committed to their bond and their family. Shelly attributes the happiness and stability of the Judice’s marriage to timeless Cajun and Catholic values:
Family comes first with them, and when hard times present themselves, they come together rather than falling or growing apart. Their family has a true sense of togetherness that reaches beyond themselves. Jill is a friend to everyone she meets. She and I grew up in a time where everyone had an open door and a sense of community. We were proud of who we were, but there was also sense of humility, and never forgot our roots, or where we came from. That’s getting harder to find, but Jill has continued that tradition. She never stops thinking of and doing for others.
For nearly 30 years, Jill has attended nearly every school function and event in which her children have been involved, from catechism and PTC to soccer, dance, lacrosse, and more. She has always been there for others, the reliable “go-to mom,” supporting the administrations of her children’s’ schools, assisting with committees, fundraisers, teacher appreciation events and countless other activities. She was classroom mom for 3 of her children, even when pregnant, and when her youngest son, Jace, graduated from the 4th grade at Woodvale Elementary, the school threw a celebration in her honor as their “Number 1 Volunteer.”
Our community is filled with countless families of all shapes and sizes that share Jill and Roch’s spirit of volunteerism and devotion to family. We may not know their individual stories as they rarely (if ever), seek the spotlight or receive the recognition they deserve. They are the moms, dads, and guardians who selflessly devote their time and efforts to raising a family and building a stronger community. They’re room moms, little league coaches, carpool organizers, den moms, band moms, and soccer moms. They’re on the cleanup crew at the school fundraiser; they pull weeds and clean flowerbeds on school cleanup day. They (You) are the pillars of our community and it is because of you and families like the Judice’s, that Acadiana is a great place to live.
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Story By: Marisa Olson & Savannah Ludwig
Photos By: Moore Photography
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