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My mom, Mary Johnson, turned 93 on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017. Her memory is fading, but she will always be a cornerstone of the Old Mission Peninsula community, as Rocko Fouch mentioned when I posted this video on Facebook yesterday of Mom and I singing Silver Bells (and let it be known that only for mom would I post a video of me singing).

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Mom met my dad, Walter Johnson, when they were both attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She was studying nursing and worked the night shift on the university switchboard. Dad was studying engineering and worked the night shift as a night watchman. He used to “check in” on the switchboard operators during his rounds. One thing led to another (her mom’s fried chicken had something to do with it), and in 1946, she was heading north to be a farm wife on a cherry farm on the Old Mission Peninsula.

It must have been a culture shock for that city girl to suddenly find herself tending chickens and churning butter, far away from her southern family. But as with everything in her life, Mom took it in stride. I once asked her how she coped with that drastic change in her life, and she always said she had a good teacher in dad, who was born on the Old Mission Peninsula and grew up on the “home farm” about a mile north of Mapleton on Center Road. My brothers, Dean and Ward, still farm on the OMP.

Mom soon found herself involved in the Old Mission Peninsula community. Someone asked her to fill in on the organ at Ogdensburg United Methodist Church (now Old Mission Peninsula United Methodist Church), and she ended up playing that organ for more than 50 years, through many pastors, weddings, funerals and church services. She “married ’em, and she buried ’em,” as our friend Jamie Jamieson says. So true.

At church this past Sunday, the churchgoers sang Happy Birthday to mom as I recorded it on my phone and played it for her when I saw her the next day. While she may not remember specific people (including me and my siblings sometimes), she knows that her life has been filled with meaningful moments on the Old Mission Peninsula – and that was one of them.

Side Note: The photo above is Mom playing the organ at Ogdensburg UMC before it was renovated several years ago. The organ was in the southeast corner of the church, with a little room next to it and a door that led out to the parking lot. I spent a lot of time in that corner playing my violin as mom played the organ.

Through the years, mom served on many OMP groups, including the Peninsula Community Library Board, Old Mission Women’s Club (and other women’s clubs), Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society and many others. She truly lived a life of service, volunteering for wherever she was needed, and with a joyful heart as she called you “love” whenever you saw her. Didn’t matter if she’d known you for 30 years or 30 minutes. You were still “love.”

I have all of Mom’s photos and scrapbooks now, so look for more stories about her life – and the history of OMP from her perspective – coming up on Old Mission Gazette. Happy 93rd Birthday, Mom!

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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  1. Sweet Mary was such a big part of my life growing up and into my “grown-up” years. I remember her leading the choir from that organ bench – a loving nod & a smile to signal when we should begin or end. And I can’t even imagine how many minutes from church meetings were hand-written in her lovely penmanship. Oh my, I could go on all day singing the praises of Mary Johnson – such a lovely lady. I can’t forget all the rides in that wonderful Volkswagen bus, either.

  2. Besides playing the organ, she was no slouch on the tractor, either! I have fond memories of working in the orchards with her — and just sweet memories of her, in general. Happy 93rd, Mary. “Love” is right! Hugs to you, and Janie Lou and Tim.


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