Judith “Judy” Rodacker, who was a pioneering female firefighter in Elk Grove, died at the age of 77 on April 21 after a long battle with pneumonia, according to her family.
Born in Seattle on Sept. 8, 1942, Rodacker was known during her years with the fire department as Judy Wengenroth.
Rodacker earned her nursing degree from Jefferson College, an extension of the University of Kentucky, in about 1971. She next worked as a nurse in Ohio for about a year before moving to Southern California, where she became employed in the same line of work.
After moving to Elk Grove from Citrus Heights in January 1978, she and her then-husband, James Wengenroth, established an ambulance company, known as Mobile Emergency Medical Systems – aka MEMS. It was headquartered in an old, stucco-covered house at 8937 Elk Grove Blvd. in Old Town Elk Grove.
Through that service, she was the first registered nurse to perform advanced life support on an ambulance in Elk Grove.
Rodacker earned her emergency medical technician certificate in 1980, and was authorized to assist with pre-hospital advanced life support such as providing heart monitoring and defibrillation, and administering intravenous fluids and medications.
During the same year, Rodacker helped establish the Drowning Accident Rescue Team – aka DART.
She also worked as the program director for the California Army National Guard’s 126th Medical Company at Mather Air Force Base.
Gerald Derr, who was serving as Elk Grove’s fire chief at the time that Rodacker joined the department, told the Citizen that she “took care of a lot of people.”
“Judy was good at everything,” he said. “She was an excellent volunteer firefighter, one of the best.”
Derr recalled the day when he first saw a MEMS ambulance in Elk Grove.
“They showed up on the scene in Elk Grove with a private ambulance,” he said. “We didn’t even know (MEMS existed), and all of a sudden here goes this ambulance past us. I said, ‘Where in the hell did they come from?’”
Derr added that MEMS eventually signed a contract with the Elk Grove Fire Department – now part of the Cosumnes Community Service District Fire Department.
“We were running an ambulance, too,” he said. “All of a sudden (MEMS was being dispatched) on our calls. Just a little strange. So, I had gotten in a big huff about that and raised hell with the county and they did away with their ambulance dispatcher.
“But then we found that (Rodacker) was so good that we contracted with (MEMS), and they actually worked with us for a long time. There’s no question that she saved lives, no question.”
Rodacker is featured in a front-page article in the Citizen’s Aug. 3, 1979 edition, in recognition of joining her then-future sister-in-law, Laurie Rodacker, as Elk Grove Fire Department’s first female firefighters.
Derr is quoted in that article on what he felt about the addition of female firefighters.
“It’s hard to get men in the daytime,” he told the Citizen in 1979. “This women thing is the going thing. I’m totally tickled about the whole thing.”
Tracy Ferguson, Rodacker’s daughter, referred to her mother as a “mover and a shaker in her day,” and somebody she looked up to.
“She was a role model and I also worked as a nurse and I also worked ambulance,” she said. “I think my mom’s interest in being a nurse was something that (was) essentially passed down to me.”
Rodacker’s medical career later included working as one of the original registered nurses at Kaiser Permanente’s south Sacramento hospital, in the intensive care unit and emergency department.
In her latter years, she became a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, enjoyed reading, making handcrafted paper items such as greeting cards, and spending time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
She had two children, five grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren, and spent the last 38 years of her life married to Bob Rodacker.
Ferguson told the Citizen that she best remembers her mother as “a strong, compassionate woman with an unwavering faith.”
“(She) saw needs in the community and set out to meet those needs,” she said.
Kaitlyn Ferguson, who was one of Rodacker’s grandchildren, also shared her thoughts on Rodacker.
“(She was) a woman with many different sides: medical, fashion, faith, humor, perfect nails, and had a love for animals,” she said.
Another one of Rodacker’s granddaughters, Krista Abbott, referred to her as “A boss lady, with a flair.”
Rodacker’s memorial of life services is currently delayed, due to the state’s stay-at-home order and the practicing of social distancing during the coronavirus situation.
Her family said that a date for that event is yet to be determined.
Friends and family of Rodacker can make contributions in her name to the LDS Humanitarian Aid Fund or the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.