Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: German immigrant finally feels at home in Quincy

Judy Percy poses for a photo in her Quincy home on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. Percy is from Germany and now home schools her nine kids as well as teaches German. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Oct. 9, 2017 8:50 am Updated: Oct. 9, 2017 8:54 am

QUINCY -- One of Judy Percy's earliest conscious memories is of her proclaiming her desire to immigrate to America.

She was 3.

Hailing from a small village in Germany, near Fulda, she remembers those moments when the American tanks would roll through. The kindness of the soldiers left a mark that was further solidified when the family moved into Fulda, a city of about 64,000. Babysitting for a nearby soldier's family, Percy responded to the family's warm and inviting nature.

"I loved their openness," she said. "They were always happy, and it was always a fun time with them."

She equated the quick relationships that develop in the Army -- the result of shared circumstances and frequent relocations -- to American culture. While she finds the civilian world a little more reserved, Americans generally seem friendly to her -- a perfect foil for the strict, rigid personalities by which she had come to define Germany.

Through an exchange program, she made it to the United States at 16. The teachers, the classes, even the snow seemed to be better in America. After three months in Cheyenne, Wy., staying with a stern German woman, her American husband and their two children, visa issues forced Percy to return to Germany.

"I felt like I was almost home," she said of that experience. "I never felt home in Germany."

Her return saw her enroll in a language school with the hopes of teaching. A trained translator, she speaks English and German fluently -- her German accent is readily identifiable -- and French, although she admits she could stand to brush up on it.

After making a career change that saw her follow in her mother's footsteps by enrolling in nursing school, she met her husband, an American soldier named Jim Percy. Out on the town for her first weekend of nursing school, her group went to the Green Goose, a club that was typically frequented by Americans. The place was empty, save for one of her acquaintances, Jim and his friend.

"I was going to school, I was happy, I didn't want anybody," she said.

The two hit it off and met up again the following day. Two months later, they eloped. To cut through some red tape and speed up the process -- Jim was set to return to America soon -- they married during a three-day trip to Denmark.

"If we wouldn't have done it fast like that, I don't think we would be together now," she said. "I think we made the right decision -- 22 years (together), nine kids, and we're still happy."

She abandoned nursing school, favoring instead moving back to America with Jim. Flying over the ocean, she kept thinking to herself "almost there." After Jim, who is a Macomb native, retired from the Army, the couple settled into a small apartment in Normal, Ill.

Their first daughter was born in Normal. They would have eight other children, now ranging in age from 20 to 3.

When Blessing Hospital offered Jim a job three years ago, the couple moved to Quincy.

Percy has homeschooled each of the children. Her oldest son has dyslexia, and through homeschooling, she is able to tailor lessons to help him improve his reading and writing skills.

"When I started teaching him, I didn't know the difficulties he had," she said. "He was really frustrated, because he couldn't understand it. When we figured out what was causing it and that he's a smart kid, it felt awesome."

Her 9-year-old also initially had trouble reading and fell behind, but has caught up to and surpassed her grade level.

"We can continue and do more than where she would be grade-wise, because she's excelling," Percy said. "We don't have to wait for the other 19 kids to get done."

Class is held in the dining room, but readings are often done outside on the porch or in a park. She is currently teaching six of her children, because two of the older girls decided to enroll in high school, and her oldest daughter has already graduated.

"I think when they're old enough, you have to consider what is the best for the child at the moment," she said.

Alternating between subjects and taking time to working with each of her children individually is an all-day process. Watching her children work together to learn -- especially when an older child shares a skill with a younger sibling -- makes the long hours worth it for Percy.

"I think it's what I'm supposed to be doing at this point in my life," she said. "I want to savor it as long as I can, having the kids around me."

For the first time in many years, she doesn't have an infant to care for while teaching her other children. With a bit of new-found free time and through an opportunity with the Tri-States Educators' Association of Christian Homeschoolers (TEACH), Percy has begun teaching German in Quincy. She offers private lessons for all ages and teaches at Quincy Montessori School and Salem Evangelical Church.

She taught a conversational German class at John Wood Community College while also attending John Wood as a student.

"I think Quincyans are really trying to bring their German heritage back, and the timing was just right for me to come back here," she said. "In Quincy, I finally feel at home."

Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.