In memoriam: Wendy L. Novak, May 3, 1952 – Feb. 24, 2024

With very heavy hearts we share the passing of our founder, Wendy L. Novak, who died peacefully on Feb. 24 surrounded by her family.

We are grateful to have been witness to her amazing strength as she soldiered through a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis and defied all expectations set by those around her. She was a true testament to the strength of the human spirit and an example of what you can do when you set your mind to it.

Please join us as we send thoughts and prayer to the entire Novak family and all of Wendy’s friends and her extended “family” at the Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute.

The Novak family has requested memorial gifts go to the Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute through the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation.

Read obituary here or below.

Wendy Louise Novak
Born into Life: May 3, 1952
Born Into Eternal Life: February 24, 2024

Wendy Louise Novak, philanthropist, fighter, and inspiration to many, passed away on February 24, 2024, at the age of 71.

Wendy had an unshakable belief in God and made her life count in so many ways. Her greatest joy came from the simple things, being a loving wife, mother and grandmother, bringing the entire family together for the holidays, giving others her full attention and being the world’s best listener and friend, relishing good ‘ole fashioned manual labor, tending to her garden and watering flowers, and keeping her body in great shape by working out each day, all with a keen sense of humor.  

Importantly, she felt enormously blessed and spent her life caring more about others than herself. She along with her daughter Ashley and husband David, started the Lift-a-Life Novak Family Foundation to give others a chance to fulfill their full potential. She took special delight in helping other diabetics, pioneering the Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, which is helping thousands deal with this daunting disease. Wendy was also heavily involved in Southeast Christian Church, where she co-founded the Weaving Mentoring program and helped create “Suitcases for the Homeless.” She traveled to South America to feed the hungry and was a big supporter of the United Nations World Food Program. Locally, she was always gratified to feed the hungry at the food shelters and enthusiastically backed the Dare to Care community kitchen. She also was a wise and insightful board member for Cabbage Patch, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Camp Hendon and the Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, including being its spokesperson on the NBC Today Show.

Wendy learned that she had Type 1 diabetes when she was only seven years old. It was a condition that ran in her family, and when her father, Jack Henderson, was diagnosed as a child, insulin treatment was still quite new. Many considered the diagnosis to be a death sentence then, but, despite the odds Jack lived a long and productive life until the age of seventy-two. Thanks to her remarkable resilience and advances in medical treatment, Wendy, too, lived with diabetes for more than sixty-four years. In fact, she more than just lived with it, she thrived.

Born in Wichita, Kansas in 1952, Wendy developed a caring nature early in life. The eldest of five siblings, she could often be seen taking care of the Henderson crew in the neighborhood as the family moved from place to place—Columbia, Missouri; Kansas City, Kansas; Louisville, Kentucky. At a young age Wendy was put in charge of caring for herself, too. She learned early how to give herself insulin shots and monitor her eating habits. Even though she was frequently sick, she played field hockey, was an avid swimmer, and attended summer camp. Just like her father taught her, Wendy grew up determined that no one treat her any differently just because she had diabetes.

Always intent on being self-sufficient, when it came time to go to college, Wendy rejected the idea of staying close to home in Louisville. She chose instead to attend the University of Missouri, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1974 and met her future husband, David. They fell madly in love and she said “yes” to his proposal after dating just eight weeks. Wendy, however, had a longstanding plan she wanted to pursue. Working as a waitress at the campus pub, she had diligently saved her tips so she could go on a two-month backpacking trip across Europe over the summer with her two best friends. So not long after receiving their diplomas Wendy headed abroad.  

That could have led to the end of the relationship if it hadn’t been for the kindness of David’s mother, Jean. As Wendy crisscrossed the continent, David wrote letters, sending them to her at different stops along her itinerary. About a month into the trip, the letters stopped without warning. Nearing the end of her journey and fearing the worst, Wendy got up the courage to call David to find out if he still loved her. David wasn’t there to answer the phone, so Wendy asked his mother if he had found another girlfriend. Wendy always felt Jean, who knew about Wendy’s medical condition and the belief that Wendy could never have children, could have said something to end it. Instead, Jean told Wendy that she should come see David as soon as possible because David really, really missed her.

As it turned out, David had not given up on their relationship. He had somehow lost her itinerary. Upon returning from Europe, Wendy went straight away to see David, and the two were married a few months later. Wendy often said how grateful she was that Jean had welcomed her back and they became life-long friends.

The early years of their marriage were largely spent finding their way as newlyweds and getting a foothold in their careers. This was the late 70s and early 80s, during a tough job market and flagging economy, and the two used their journalism degrees to secure positions in the world of advertising, frequently moving for better opportunities and finding work in places like Washington DC, Pittsburgh, and Dallas.

They didn’t have a lot in those early years, but being together was all they needed. And so it was, until about nine years into their marriage when Wendy told David that she wanted to have a baby.

Before they were married, Wendy decided that she needed to be up front with David about her medical condition. She was direct about the fact that she might not live to see age forty and probably wouldn’t be able to have children. In later years, Wendy often remembered that time in her life when she believed her future was so limited. She was happy to learn that David wasn’t deterred. He told her in no uncertain terms that if things turned out that way, then so be it, because all he wanted was her.

It was for this reason that David was surprised by Wendy’s declaration about wanting a baby. At the time, her diabetes was well controlled, and even though it was a decision that carried some risk, they decided to go for it.

It was not an easy pregnancy, Wendy was forced to give up work and remain on bedrest for five months due to a variety of complications. Despite how much her world had changed, Wendy hardly complained – or when she did, it was with her trademark wit and sly humor on full display. Before, she had sometimes been cavalier on her diabetes management, but not when she was pregnant. She was determined to do everything within her power to give her baby the best chance that she could.

When her daughter, Ashley, arrived, she was just 4 lbs, 10 ounces and 10 weeks premature. She spent nearly a month in the NICU, but during that worrisome time, Wendy took comfort in the fact that, according to the doctors, her baby showed no signs of being carried by a diabetic mother. Wendy’s dedication had paid off, and she always felt having Ashley “Sweetie Brooke” was her greatest accomplishment.

In spite of a precarious beginning, Ashley continued to grow and thrive even as Wendy suffered complications resulting from diabetes. Her eyesight waned and she had more and more blood sugar episodes, but through it all she kept her positive attitude. After being the top performing salesperson at a local television station while they were in Dallas, she went back to school and earned a master’s degree in social work at Columbia University, when the family moved to Connecticut. She took on a greater role in David’s professional life and she became renowned for being the beloved first lady of Yum! Brands. It was a position that allowed the couple to meet a wide variety of incredible people, travel the world together and have experiences Wendy never would have thought possible, from hosting grand Kentucky Derby parties at their home, safari’s in South Africa, skiing down slopes in France to watch the Olympics, seeing the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, China, and having Brad Paisley personally sing her Happy Birthday.

Despite all she achieved and the magnificent life she lived, she always had a humble spirit, grounded in what really matters most: her faith, her family, and creating a welcoming and loving home. She also loved her late dogs, Brandy, Gabby and Sarge, as well as surviving Theo, all of which never left her side.  

Although Wendy preferred to focus on others, in 2023 she authored the book Diabetes and Me: Living a Healthy and Empowered Life in the Face of Diabetes to raise awareness about the condition. She wanted children with diabetes to know that they can live full, happy, and productive lives, and she hoped her story would serve as undeniable proof of this fact.

Wendy leaves behind her husband, David; her daughter, Ashley and Ashley’s husband, Jonathan Butler; her grandchildren, Audrey, Claire, and Luke; her mother, Ann; her siblings, Cindy, Jeff, Rick, and Gretchen; David’s father, Charles, and his siblings Susan and Karen; and enough people who have been touched by her work and her indomitable spirit to fill a stadium.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, c/o Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation, Fenley Office Park B, 4965 U.S. Highway 42, Suite 1000, Louisville, KY 40222. Online donations can be made to: