Mary's College Days; Mom and her sorority sisters, circa early 1940s | Mary Louise Bohlken Johnson Photo
Mom and her sorority sisters, circa early 1940s | Mary Louise Bohlken Johnson Photo
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Many of you remember my mom, Mary Johnson, as a faithful and dedicated member of the Old Mission Peninsula community. If there was something that needed to be done, she was always the first to volunteer.

To name just a few of her accomplishments, she served on the board of Peninsula Community Library for many years, and was part of the team that worked to buy the land on the corner of Center Road and Island View Road where the new library now sits. She was a member of the Old Mission Women’s Club, OMP Historical Society and many other groups.

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She also played the organ at OMP United Methodist Church for more than 50 years. She always laughed that she volunteered to play one Sunday and ended up playing for 50 years. She loved taking meeting minutes and served as secretary for many groups. Even after she retired from all of that, you would still see her taking notes at meetings. She just felt this need to document everything, which maybe explains why I have that same need to document OMP history and happenings here on the Gazette.

Mom didn’t do all of these things out of a sense of obligation. She did them because she truly loved being able to serve the OMP community wherever she could in whatever capacity she was needed. She was always “all in.”

Here she is at the church organ, probably sometime in the 1970s. A familiar sight to many of you, as she played for every wedding, funeral, church service, and all the things in between. “She married ’em, and she buried ’em,” my friend Jamie Jamieson always says.

Mary Johnson at the organ at Ogdensburg United Methodist Church on the Old Mission Peninsula
Mary Johnson at the organ at Ogdensburg United Methodist Church, circa 1970s | Marge Long Family Archives

I’ve mentioned many times here on the Gazette how Mom came to live on the OMP. She was raised in the south – a southern belle – and met my dad when they both attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He was the night watchman and she worked the night shift on the switchboard. He would come by the switchboard to “check on things.”

Mom and Dad were married on August 21, 1946, and the city girl moved north to be a farm wife. But there’s a lot more to that story. When I cleaned out Mom and Dad’s house in 2016, I came across a journal that Mom kept during her college years (yep, she documented that, too). Turns out she had a suitor named Frank who my dad was unknowingly competing against.

Mom and Frank both graduated from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, in 1942, so I’m thinking they were high school sweethearts. Mom went off to college, and Frank went off to war. If just one or two things had gone a different way, Mom would not have married Dad and moved to the OMP, and I would not be sitting here telling you this story.

Dad passed away in October 2002 at the age of 78, and Mom passed away in January 2020 at the age of 96. They had a good long marriage that included four kids, lots of grandkids, and an OMP farm that dates back to the 1800s (my brothers, Dean and Ward, continue to farm to this day).

But … what about Frank from her college journal? Why didn’t she end up with him? I’m going to tell you that story, one page at a time, starting with the beginning of Mom’s journal on January 1, 1945. By this time, Mom had spent two years at Northwestern University, where she met Dad, and had transferred to the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, where she continued her nurse’s training (and continued to pine for Frank). She kept meticulous photo albums and scrapbooks, so I’ll piece the story together from both those and the journal.

Mom was a vibrant, fun-loving college girl who went to lots of dances and movies, and she loved her sorority sisters. She was part of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, which someone told me recently was known as the “party” sorority. Well, that would be Mom. Don’t they look like a fun-loving group? Mom is in the first row on the floor, second from the right. She’s wearing a black top and has her hand up against the side of her head.

Mary's College Days; Mom and her sorority sisters, circa early 1940s | Mary Louise Bohlken Johnson Photo
Mom and her sorority sisters, circa early 1940s | Mary Louise Bohlken Johnson Photo

And below is the first page of the journal, which she wrote on Jan. 1, 1945. As she was in nurse’s training, she was already tending to patients, which you’ll see she refers to as “pt.” This journal has her dad’s name on it – James Bohlken, who was a civil engineer – and must have been a promotional gift from Sedgwick Machine Works, as you’ll see in the photo below.

Of her nursing duties – that day, she was on duty from 7 – 11 a.m. and 2:30 – 7 p.m., she writes, “Took a pt. to x-ray. Quite a trying hour, arthritis in her joints. Weighed – 120 lbs.”

As for Frank, she writes, “How I wish Frank could be with me, to start this year in the best possible way.” She also writes, “Wrote Lee. No mail, to-day.” I believe Lee was a high school friend who was also serving in the war.

Also note the journal’s weather options on the right. It was rainy that day.

Mary Louise Bohlken; Mary's College Days Journal 1945; Jan. 1, 1945 | Jane Boursaw Photo
Mary Louise Bohlken; Mary’s College Days Journal, 1945; Jan. 1, 1945 | Jane Boursaw Photo
Mary Louise Bohlken; Mary's College Days Journal 1945; note her dad's name on the cover of the journal, likely a promotional gift, as he was a civil engineer | Jane Boursaw Photo
Mary Louise Bohlken; Mary’s College Days Journal, 1945; note her dad’s name on the cover of the journal, likely a promotional gift, as he was a civil engineer | Jane Boursaw Photo
Mary Louise Bohlken; Mary's College Days Journal 1945; note the the journal is branded from Sedgwick Machine Works; likely a promotional gift, as her dad, James Bohlken, was a civil engineer | Jane Boursaw Photo
Mary Louise Bohlken; Mary’s College Days Journal, 1945; note the the journal is branded from Sedgwick Machine Works; likely a promotional gift, as her dad, James Bohlken, was a civil engineer | Jane Boursaw Photo
Mary Louise Bohlken; Mary's College Days Journal 1945; note at the top she writes "Medical College of Virginia" | Jane Boursaw Photo
Mary Louise Bohlken; Mary’s College Days Journal, 1945; note at the top she writes “Medical College of Virginia” | Jane Boursaw Photo

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Jane… How different it must have been Jan 1, 1945. The nation involved in a great global conflict, loved ones off, who knows where, doing who knows what, perhaps in great mortal danger. And still a serious uncertainty about how it would all turn out.

    And, on the other hand how the same too. A young nurse escorting an elderly patient to x-ray, because of bad arthritis. How many of us can associate with that?

    You do your Mom a great honor.

  2. Wonderful for her friends in the latter years of her life to be able to see the young Mary – still with all those hopes & dreams for the future.
    I can see the “party girl” in her but also remember the smart, hard-working woman I knew.
    Thank you for sharing. Looking forward to the next chapter of the story.

  3. Excellent idea to share this with all of us. I can’t wait to hear how this southern-raised girl adjusted to the northern atmosphere. It has not been too easy for me, especially during my teens.

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