Literacy Program Loses ‘Heart And Soul’

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It was an e-mail sent to the Roundup. Short, sad and worthy of a response.

“Lois Johnson, the very heart and soul of the Rim Country Literacy Program, died Friday morning at 2 a.m. She was a very exceptional person. So, I hope you will give her top coverage.”

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Lois Johnson

Johnson was the mother of Sgt. Douglas Johnson, the 37-year-old Payson police officer who died in his sleep Aug. 1. She came to the Rim country a little more than a dozen years ago, but touched more lives than most people could in a dozen lifetimes.

Lois first became involved with literacy work as a volunteer tutor in the informal predecessor of the Rim Country Literacy Program.

Her first student was a 37-year-old construction worker with third-grade reading skills.

A story about that first student was shared by her best friend, Barbara Rodek, who is now the president of the literacy program, with the program’s director, Su Connell.

“I’m sure everyone has heard her story of her first student in the old trailer at Arrowhead and later at the library. ... She’d tell the man, ‘Park your truck at the Ox Bow and walk across the street!’ For Lois there was no excuse for not learning to read.”

Terry Morris, director of the Payson Public Library, said the literacy program was floundering and Lois took it over and made it what it is today.

Today, the Rim Country Literacy Program is a successful community service project that has reached more than 400 students since 1994. It started as Adult Basic Education, took over General Educational Development classes and testing when they were dropped by the college, expanded into the English as a Second Language work, citizenship classes, and just started a Family Literacy Program.

Nancy Althoff said she and Lois became acquainted in 1992 in Soroptimists. Even then she was interested in literacy and pursued the issue until she developed a board and started the formal Adult Basic Education program.

The program grew, and eventually Lois talked Althoff into serving on the board.

“Another dream she had was getting the child program started. Her dream and vision got so many people involved. The last time we put a call out for tutors, we ended up training 30 tutors in three months,” Althoff said.

She said it was through Lois’ efforts the program’s budget more than quadrupled over the years.

“We are all very indebted to Lois for getting us involved. Not one of us would give up our work in the program. She was a remarkable woman,” Althoff said.

Lois was also a woman of tremendous energy and generosity. Besides her extraordinary efforts on behalf of the Rim Country Literacy Program, she also was very active in the Mount Cross Lutheran Church.

She served as chair of its Endowment Committee for several years, worked with its counting group and provided transportation for fellow members of the church. The transportation was not just to services either. There was one particular member she would take shopping, out to get her medicines and more, according to Jane Harrington in the church’s office.

“She helped with many special events. She was always there, no matter what needed to be done,” Harrington said.

Lois worked at Prudential Arrowhead Realty from Feb. 1990 until Feb. 1996. She started as a secretary for the property management division, filled in when the property manager was unavailable and eventually took over the work.

“She took a challenging job and made it look easy,” Prudential broker Cliff Potts said.

Lois had excellent customer service skills, but she could cut to the chase, not letting anyone take advantage of her because she was a woman, Potts said.

“She could diffuse problems before they occurred.

“I didn’t know how wonderful a property manager she was until she retired. It has been practically impossible to fill her shoes,” Potts said.

Remembering Lois, Potts said she had a great, great sense of humor.

“She made work fun. One time, during the monsoons, she told me she needed a glass of wine to get through the storm. I told her she just needed to get down on the floor, so there’d be something taller than her for the lightning to strike. Awhile later, during another thunder storm, I came in and she was crawling around on the floor.”

Another fond memory Potts has is the time Lois was taking Spanish classes and he gave her a birthday card in Spanish, written with the help of a friend. He said he could not remember the word for boss, so he just signed it “El Bosso,” and from then on, that is what Lois called him.

“She talked people in the office into doing crazy things. One time she convinced a co-worker to go trick-or-treating with her. They dressed up in fatigues and camouflage paint and came to my house and I didn’t even recognize them, until I saw one of them was trick-or-treating with about a half-gallon wine glass,” Potts said.

“She was a treasure. The clientele had a tremendous respect for her. The literacy program is a tremendous legacy. It has become self-sustaining because of her,” Potts said.

Just as Potts found it hard to fill Lois’ shoes in his business, Su Connell, the new director of the literacy program, said she knows the shoes Lois has left her to fill are so substantial it is a little overwhelming for her.

Survivors include her husband, Dennis Johnson of Payson; sons, Ward Johnson in the U.S. Air Force and Darryl Johnson of Smithville, Mo.; sister, Beverly Zeman of Milwaukee, Wis.; brother, Kenneth Schultz of Adams, Wis.; and eight grandchildren.

Services were held Nov. 26 at Mount Cross Lutheran Church.

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