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Judy Coplien: A love of dancing, animals and Monroe
MONROE - Her feet might not move quite as swiftly as they did when she performed on the dance floor, but Judy Coplien's eyes still dance with the utmost loveliness when she laughs.

She chose Monroe to raise her family and had her hand in several businesses and projects. Today, her love for the city keeps her happy right where she is.

She was born in Madison and by first grade, Coplien was living in Janesville - she has fond memories of playing by Monterey Bridge. It was her father's childhood hometown and he knew the hot spots to share with his three children.

By the time Coplien reached fourth grade, her father, a well-known sausage-maker, had purchased a meat market in Monticello, where the family moved. She is a 1956 graduate of Monticello High School.

She calls herself an average student. Her real love of learning was on the dance floor and in the music room where she enjoyed dance, ballet, tap and even singing. Her instrument knowledge is abundant, but her favorite - and the one she still plays today - is the organ.

Although her family lived in Monticello, Coplien had a large group of friends from Monroe, where she would spend time regularly and eventually meet her husband, Jerry, at age 15.

"I knew the minute I saw him that I would marry him," she said with a laugh. And through him, she met even more friends from the area and soon, Monroe felt like home.

Shortly after graduation, Coplien turned down an offer to go to modeling school in Chicago. She got cold feet after her first trip to the modeling agency, and decided the big city life wasn't for her.

She and Jerry married in 1956 and the couple soon moved to Arizona with Jerry's parents for a year before they decided to move back home.

"Wisconsin was in my heart. I love the trees and the greenery here," Coplien said. "I missed my family here, too. I love Monroe."

Once the couple returned, Coplien began working at Lee's, a women's store on the Square. She had taken a course in dress design from the Chicago School of Design and it was something that always interested her. When the owner went out of business, Coplien saw her opportunity and opened her own store, Mode O Day. The business-minded newlywed enjoyed the shop and the people she met there.

But it wasn't long before she and Jerry had children: Brenda (now deceased) and Gerald. Coplien opted to become a homemaker and says she felt lucky she was able to be home with her children.

The family loved animals and always had a pet. They all doted on Gerald's border collie, "Baby," who played baseball and the piano. The family pet was notorious for waving goodbye to visitors.

Once, after a weekend away from home, Coplien said she noticed there was another dog in the house - Gerald had brought it home and although she didn't want another pet, she gave in.

Weeks later, Gerald came home with a puppy he'd found in a pail near the Laundromat.

She knew they couldn't keep another dog - and wished more than once someone in town would start a humane society.

"One day I finally said to myself 'you're somebody,'" Coplien said. "I guess once I realized I was somebody, it was a job I had to do."

And that she did. It took working hand-in-hand with city officials to figure out how to start a shelter for the unwanted animals in Monroe. Then-Mayor Cliff Reasa offered her a city-owned building for $1 per year in rent. She worked with the police department, and she and Gerald took care of the animals.

One day at the vet's office, she ran into a friend and another animal lover who decided to get involved as well. From there, word got around about the humane society and several people came forward to help. They worked with a state humane officer and meetings and fundraisers began. A board was arranged with the charter members.

As it kept growing and improving, she stepped aside. But Coplien remained busy. She and Jerry owned and operated Marco's Supper Club for two years before selling it because Coplien said she needed more time with her family. However, she would stay in the business for 16 years, serving as the restaurant's hostess.

"I enjoyed meeting people and I loved being around people," she said. "It's those happy experiences that have made up my life."

Along with being a homemaker, Coplien gave music lessons in her home. When her husband built Highlander Mall, she decided to open her own music store in an empty space, and Coplien Music was born.

She and Gerald ran the business together and expanded the building to include a room for lessons. Coplien loved the business and felt lucky they were approved to sell Gibson products, along with many others.

As time went on and Gerald was married, they decided to sell the store in the 1990s, but Coplien continued giving lessons, and taught musically-minded students for a total of 35 years. She had two granddaughters at the time and she was ready to settle down and spend time with them.

An antique collector and lover, Coplien also had an antique booth at the Monroe Antique Mall for about 10 years. She still has favorite pieces from her father that she enjoys in her home.

"I just enjoyed life," Coplien said. "You enjoy every minute of your life and have every experience you can throughout. That's probably the way I've lived my life."

Today, Coplien says Monroe is a place she would never leave. When she drives by the trees at Twining Park, she remembers her husband planting them when they were small - and she enjoys seeing the success of Monroe today.

And that includes the humane society. It's something Coplien looks fondly on today and still supports when she can.

"I am so proud of the humane society. I think of where we started and see the job these wonderful people have done," Coplien said. "I couldn't believe it when I saw" the new shelter that opened its doors in 2013. "Never in my life would I have dreamed it would be what it is now."