Local lady, 90, living life to the fullest

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson

By Katherine R. Dougan 

Mary and Darwin Johnson planned to travel to Sweden and Germany after retirement, a decision made after the Clinton couple traced their families’ roots back to their home countries. For Darwin, it was Sweden; and, for Mary, it was Germany.

“We did research at the Mormon [Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints genealogy research] center here in Clinton,” Mary said. “They have the records of every ship that left Europe.” Since Mary still had contact with some of her relatives in Germany, the couple focused on searching for Darwin’s relatives in Sweden. The Mormon center had records of every ship that left Sweden bound for the United States. 

They searched through record books of ships that sailed from Sweden to the United States for three years, Mary said, looking for records of when Darwin’s grandparents left Sweden for the United States. 

“We combed all of the books for ships that left Sweden during the turn of the century. We knew they didn’t leave from Stockholm; they left from Malmö.” Then, they found Darwin’s relatives, and he promptly wrote to them. Darwin tracked their progress on a detailed map of Sweden. 

“My husband had a gigantic map of Sweden in the house. It was the first thing you saw when you walked into our house.”

“We were planning to go [to Sweden and Germany] the year after retirement,” Mary said.

However, just before retirement, Darvin, age 61, died, in 1991.

“We always wanted to travel,” Mary said, so she decided to travel to Sweden and Germany, visiting both her own and Darwin’s relatives, just as she and her husband had planned. Mary’s sister, Wilma, who lives in California, took the trip with Mary. 

“The two of us went to Germany to meet a cousin in Dusseldorf, because their relatives live in Northern Germany.” The German relatives drove Mary and Wilma all over the country, where they “saw everything,” Mary said. 

Then they went to Sweden. 

“Wilma and I wandered all around Sweden, finding his [Darwin’s] relatives.” A cousin loaned the sisters his car, and Wilma and Mary drove their way around Sweden.

Since that trip, Mary has traveled with various relatives and friends all over the world, with the exception of the Slavic states and Russia, and she has visited every state – except Delaware and North Dakota. She said it helps that she has relatives all over the place. 

“I had a dear friend in New England, relatives in Midwest, a sister in California, a cousin in Alaska, and a cousin in Hawaii, which makes it easier to travel.”

“My husband and I were gonna hit all of the national parks. I’ve seen most of them, but not all.”

She and “Dar” did take several trips before he passed. 

“One year, he and I went to Colorado, and made it to San Antonio and Austin, Texas. We only had five big trips, the two of us.”

Mary always knew she wanted to travel, and she traces her love of travel to her youth. She grew up in Rockford, Illinois, which is near Chicago. 

“When you grow up living near a large city, you go to the city to see museums, musicals and all of the culture in the big city. If you’re always going to the big city from the time you are fifteen to sixteen years old, you fall in love with the world when you experience all of that.”

She and three teenage girlfriends would go as often as they could to Chicago. 

“If there was a great musical, we made sure we got there, and to the symphony and art museum. I once saw an artist in the middle of January.” The friends would catch a train to Chicago, riding aboard the Land of Corn or the Hawkeye train.

She attended a small all-girls’ college in Rockford. Although the school was small, the education was magnificent, she said. The joy of being in this little college was that Mary got an internship in St. Louis her sophomore year, a two-year workshop with a female journalist in charge of the Society section of the Grove Democrat. She also spent time with a woman in charge of television and also in charge of radio – women in three fields of communication.

“That’s what I wanted to do when I was eighteen or nineteen,” Mary said. Something she noticed is that all of the women in communications were single. “They told me I would have to work twice as hard as a man, and that women in the newspaper field were almost destined to work in the society section of the paper.” They also told her should wouldn’t be able to move to the top at a newspaper.

After the internship ended, Mary returned to college and changed her major to speech therapy. 

“I knew I didn’t want to be stuck writing about society,” she said. Her college offered internships for speech therapy, and she was able to go to every university and hospital in the Chicago area through an internship with Spalding School. She learned the latest techniques in therapy for every speech handicapped child. She later had an internship in Milwaukee public schools.

Mary retired after a career of teaching speech therapy in Jackson Public Schools. 

“It was a great place to teach,” she said. As a speech therapist, she went to four different schools to work and was able to meet women in another twenty schools in the district. “I met so many women I never would have met if I hadn’t taught in Jackson Public Schools.” 

After retirement, many of the women she knew volunteered for the same organizations, attended Bible study, belonged to retired teachers’ organizations, and were members of the same clubs and groups.

She attended Hinds Junior College classes for creative learning in retirement and learned how to use computers. 

“The world has changed so much; it’s really funny. I’m not very good with anything electronic.”

When Mary was a speech therapist, she wrote her reports out in longhand. 

“The last year I taught, we had to do one report on the computer. It took three times as long to do that one report on the computer.”

Mary stays active and spends a lot of time gardening in her yard. She also visits and cares for elderly friends, and goes to the Baptist HealthPlex when she can. She is a member of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Clinton.

“I have really enjoyed my life. I’m glad I changed fields. I enjoyed working with children and helping children with speech problems. It was rewarding, and I taught until I was sixty-two.”

When asked if Mary has any advice for younger people embarking on a career, she said:

“I think you have to choose what you want to do, and do what makes you happy. And know yourself.”


1 Comment

  1. Tiffany McNeely on January 10, 2021 at 1:32 pm

    This is a GREAT STORY!!! ❤️ Great writing & research & loved to hear who Mary is! There should be more pieces like this!

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