Last November, Payson lost a woman described as the "heart and soul" of the Rim Country Literacy Program. It is with tremendous sorrow that the Roundup posthumously honors Lois Johnson as Payson's Woman of the Year.
Johnson first became involved with literacy work as a volunteer tutor, when the program was still in its infancy, operating out of an old trailer.
Today, the Rim Country Literacy Program (RCLP) is credited with serving more than 400 students since 1994 and took over General Education Development Classes and testing when the college dropped them.
Over time, the literacy program has expanded its programs to include English as a Second Language work, citizenship classes, and most recently, a family literacy program.
"It was through Lois' efforts that the program's budget quadrupled over the last years," said board member Nancy Althoff in a Roundup article following Johnson's death. "She was a remarkable woman."
The Roundup received several touching letters about Johnson from those who knew her, worked with her, as well as former students.
Susan Connelly, director of the RCLP, wrote that Johnson "worked relentlessly to obtain grants and donations for the RCLP" and "treated all program volunteers with dignity, honesty and cheerfulness. She contributed to the literacy of many folks who in turn improved the community and provided a more educated work force."
"Lois Johnson has left a mark on our hearts," Connelly wrote, "and the world a better place."
Frank Brooks, a resident of Payson, described how Johnson continued her efforts to bring the Family Literacy Program to fruition even during her struggle with cancer.
"Lois was a caring person who gave the opportunity for a more meaningful and rewarding life to many in this community," Brooks wrote. "Her legacy lives on in the hearts of those who completed their GED requirements, learned to read and write English, or learned English as a second language. She gave far more than she received."
RCLP volunteer Anne Henley wrote: "Lois inspired us and made each of us feel very special and appreciated as volunteers. She was an excellent role model for us and the students." Henley went on to say that Johnson's "significant and lasting contributions to the community were made in a quiet way behind the scenes and now deserve recognition."
Police Chief Gordon Gartner also wrote a letter nominating Johnson for Woman of the Year.
"She gave her time and means to assist and support this program (RCLP), which had the power to change lives. In fact, the RCLP has worked with a member of our community who later came to work for the police department." Gartner wrote. "Lois' efforts and dedication to this great cause will be felt for years to come by people throughout the community."
Former Mayor Ray Schum, in nominating Johnson for the award, wrote, "Awards such as this normally recognize individuals who are ‘high profile' within the community for their civic and social involvements. Just the opposite is true in the case of Lois Johnson. Yet her efforts were truly noteworthy and extremely beneficial to hundreds of our citizens in a personal way and largely unknown to the public."
Schum went on to say, "Lois Johnson deserves and should be remembered for her efforts in the development of RCLP. A total of 530 individuals have benefited from RCLP. "...Because when you change a life, you make an investment forever, which is the mission of the RCLP, a goal that Lois Johnson was instrumental in forming."
Payson resident Donna Henslee wrote on her ballot for Woman of the Year, "She was such an awesome woman, someone I would like to emulate if I could ever be so lucky in my life. She touched my spirit and helped me see who I am and who I could become."
By the many touching letters the Roundup received, it is evident that the community feels the loss of Lois Johnson. Yet as many have written, Johnson's legacy lives on, especially for those, who because of her devotion and dedication to literacy, have a chance to better their lives.