A man who earned his name

Dec. 01, 2013 @ 04:04 AM

I wasn’t sure what to expect at the recent plaque ceremony for Worth Johnson, the longtime director of recreation for the Town of Spindale. I’ve never attended a plaque ceremony, and in fact, didn’t know Mr. Johnson at all. He passed away in 2010, the same year we moved to Spindale.

The lobby of the Spindale House was crowded with local worthies and pillars of the community, including former Lt. Governor Walter Dalton. The mayor of Spindale was also in attendance, as were a number of town commissioners.

He must have been a big shot, I surmised.

I soon discovered there was quite a bit more to the man we were honoring.

Spindale Town Commissioner Nancy Walker described how Coach Johnson helped her overcome her terror of turning over underwater; a critical skill for passing the swim test and gaining entry as a “big kid” to the Spindale public pool.

Seeing that the young girl was struggling, several mothers urged Coach Johnson to fish her out of the water with a nearby pole.

Hold on a second, he cautioned them. She’s learning how to swim.

Sure enough, she was – and passed the swim test.

Don Owens told us what happened when, as a young boy, he and a friend sneaked out behind the Spindale House for a forbidden smoke. They were soon caught by Coach Johnson.

Instead of giving the two boys a wrathful lecture, however, he gently explained to them how smoking could undo all of an athlete’s hard work and dedication. It was a conversation that convinced Owens to never become a smoker.

I found myself wishing I’d had a Coach Johnson to intervene when I took up the awful habit as a teenager. It’s only just this year, decades later, that I’ve been able to quit for good.

Throughout the ceremony, friends and family and former employees described Worth Johnson as a “worker.” He didn’t just direct his staff; he worked side-by-side with them.

And this leads to a recollection of the man that stood out most of all to me. Interestingly, it had nothing to do with his years as an athletic coach.

Apparently, Worth Johnson was just as dedicated to his church, Spindale Methodist, as he was to his job at the Spindale House. And not just in his capacity as a Sunday school teacher. A fellow member of Spindale Methodist mentioned discovering Coach Johnson sweeping the church’s front steps one Sunday.

It turned out to be a task Johnson regularly undertook, for no other discernible reason than because one day he noticed it needed doing.

As I absorbed this anecdote, I couldn’t help but wonder what I’d do if I saw my church steps were in similar need. Would I grab a broom? I’d like to believe I would, but it’s more probable I’d just make a passing comment about it to someone “in charge.”

Here’s something else I had to acknowledge. There’s no similar task I perform on a regular basis for my neighborhood or town or anyone, really, outside of my immediate family. But I’ll be looking for one after learning about a man who, on top of all his other responsibilities, picked up a broom every week to give his church’s steps a vigorous sweeping.

That’s a big shot for you. Even after they pass away, their example lives on.


Stephanie Janard is a mother and writer who lives in Spindale. She can be reached at sjanard@msn.com.