Tools of the trade

To some, he?s known as Mr. Johnson, to others, he?s Dad, and to many, he?s just called Evan. Whatever folks call him, the fact exists that the retired principal and former Walton mayor has worn many hats. He?s spent much of his life dedicated to assisting others, whether it be nurturing the minds and values of children, serving his city or helping get a much-needed restaurant off the ground in the small Kansas town.
In those roles, he?s a living example of his life philosophy.
?(I want) things to be as good as possible for everybody,? Johnson said, sitting in his garage filled with antique tools. ?I believe I want everybody to have a good day.?
Johnson wishes all people to have success in their relationships and families, and to have jobs they enjoy.
One job Johnson enjoyed was being principal of Suncrest, Pleasant Acres and Walton elementary schools.
?It was a good job; it really was,? said Johnson, who turned 76 on Sept. 1.
Suncrest and Pleasant Acres were closed in 1986, and Johnson moved to Sunset Elementary School in Newton, where he was principal until 1992. That was the year he transferred to Lincoln Elementary School in Newton, where he worked as principal until 1997, when he retired.
However, in fall 1997 he became the substitute principal at Sedgwick elementary and junior high for two years, retiring again in 1999.
Johnson?s career in education began in 1961 when he moved to Walton to teach high school math and science. Before that, he resided in Newton for three years. The high school in Walton closed in 1964, so Johnson was principal at the elementary school in the same town, where he also taught eighth grade. The next year, he taught sixth through eighth grade. In 1964, the high school only had 29 students, Johnson said, so those students went to Newton and other area towns.
Johnson has many memories of his education days. One of those was when he would not let students play ball until they had finished their lessons. Some?times, the junior high students sat on the scorer?s table until their work was done. Johnson said the coaches kidded him, calling him ?you old meanie.?
Something that impressed Johnson about students was their honesty when he sat them down and talked to them. He said with students, he stressed honesty. Stressing such values and just being himself have endeared him to many of them. Now, it?s not unusual for former students to stop by his home when they?re back in the area for the holidays.
One former student remembers an incident when Johnson was principal at Lincoln. A fellow student was angry, throwing chairs around the classroom; Mr. Johnson walked into the room, picked up the student, put him on his shoulder and carried him out of the room. The student who observed this thought, ?Well, that took care of that.?
Johnson didn?t always intend to go into education. His first career choice was farming, and that?s why he said he collects antique tools?because he was around a lot of tools on the farm.
?I grew up on a farm,? he said. ?I was always wanting to be a farmer. It didn?t work out to be a farmer.?
Johnson said when he grew up in the 1950s, farming was poor. For three years, from 1951 through 1953, the family didn?t even have a wheat crop.
?Dad said, ?Stay in school,?? Johnson said.
So he did, but he has never quite rid himself of the farming bug.
Johnson has about 2,000 antique tools, the oldest of which he believes is a monkey wrench dating from 1837. He found it in Joplin, Mo., and it?s one of the first monkey wrenches made by Coe Company.
Other unusual tools include a 1920s marmalade grinder, a knife serration cutter from the 1940s, a hammer head made for square nuts (which was his 279th tool), a Vandergrift quick-adjust square nut wrench dating to 1917, a fence stretcher called The Rattler and a bandage winder.
Of the latter tool, Johnson said, ?That?s one of my more unique, different tools. Kids really like that one.?
In retirement, Johnson hasn?t stayed away from teaching. Every Friday during the school year, he brings a ?tool of the week? to the charter school in Walton to teach children about it. While there, he tells students to make good eye contact with him, which shows they?re paying attention, and to ask good questions.
Education, however, wasn?t Johnson?s first choice for study in college. He studied engineering for two years at the junior college in Hutchinson, and then ran into a couple of people who were student teaching. Johnson said he?d always go with them while they student taught and decided that?s what he wanted to do. Johnson now has a master?s degree plus 30 more hours of post-graduate study in education under his belt.
Another of Johnson?s roles is being owner of Johnson Jack Service, a hydraulic jack repair business.
?There?s not that many people around who do that kind of stuff,? Johnson said.
He also has been chairman of Rural Fire District No. 1 for 15 years. The district is comprised of Walton and three townships. In June, the town had a dedication ceremony for the new fire district building, which Johnson said is a $250,000 building built for $100,000. Money was saved because firefighters built the structure.
?We?re very proud,? Johnson said. ?So now every fire truck we have has its own door.?
Prior to that, some trucks had to be moved to get other trucks out of the building. Johnson gives Dean Davis, who retired from the Newton Fire/EMS Department, credit for getting the new fire building erected. The building was financed by bonds and will cost about 1 mill for 10 years, Johnson said.
His son, Merlyn, is fire chief and Walton city superintendent. Evan Johnson and wife Carolyn celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary this summer. They have two other children, Greg and LuAnn.
In serving his city, Johnson was mayor for the past four years and had been on the council for 12. He is proud of the council?s accomplishments while he served.
?We got a good road built in our industrial park by working with the county and the city and the Mid Kansas Co-op,? he said.
The co-op provided the rock, the county hauled and graded it, and the city packed it.
?So we got ?em a good road there,? he said.
He said the council?s goal was to make Walton a better place to live. About a year ago, while Johnson was on the council, a fertilizer company, called ISP, moved into the old Art?s and Mary?s potato chip plant.
?We got them to come without having to give them a tax abatement,? Johnson said. ?They didn?t ask for one.?
Johnson also was elected to chair the Walton Community Development Corp. This group spearheaded a project where people in the community pooled money to get a restaurant in Walton.
Johnson also has a key to the Walton museum. He said people can call him, and he?ll take them through the two buildings that make up the museum, one of which is the old Walton Post Office. The museum has a variety of articles on display, including school items, a sidesaddle and old town photographs.
One of the museum buildings is an old grocery store, given to the Walton museum by Mabel Morgan, whose husband was a lawyer in Newton for many years.
Another of Johnson?s hats includes being treasurer of the Brethren church in Newton and helping with the Caring and Giving Garden at the church. During the garden?s first year, they gave away 660 pounds of tomatoes.
In addition to wearing many hats, Johnson knows at least some of the history of Walton. For example, he said Walton was named after a former railroad official. And now the town has many trains running through it.
?We get about 24 to 40 (trains) a day,? said Johnson, who can hear trains from his property. ?It?s busy here.?

Photos and story by?Wendy Nugent

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