Johnsons embrace community service
MORAN — Both Laura and Jeff Johnson grew up with an appreciation of living in small towns.
The Johnsons, this year’s farm marshals for the upcoming Farm-City Days, spoke about their fondness for all things quaint in a recent visit with a Register reporter.
The conversation came amid an otherwise busy Friday, where Jeff spent the morning tending cattle on what had been his parents’ old farmstead near Redfield, getting home in time to wash up before heading to Humboldt’s Community National Bank branch, where he works as a regional vice president. (The name sounds more prestigious than it is, he jokes.)
Then, he returned home for this interview before heading back out for another meeting.
Laura, meanwhile, keeps plenty busy around the home about three miles south of Moran, lends a hand with the cattle farming operation when asked, and finds times for other activities in Moran, and her native Humboldt (She’s the daughter of Don and Ellie Walburn.)
That said, the Johnsons were a bit incredulous when asked to serve as dignitaries for Saturday’s 11 a.m. parade.
“They couldn’t find anybody else?” Jeff laughed.
In all fairness, the Johnson family has become enmeshed in community events across Allen County, and beyond.
“The community has been very good to us,” Jeff said. “We always thought it was important to give back.”
In addition to his banking job, Jeff serves as an Allen County Regional Hospital trustee, is a member of the Moran Ruritan club and the Kansas Livestock Association. Laura is on the Allen Community College Endowment Board and remains active with the Humboldt AM chapter of PEO, a women’s organization. They’re also supporters of Allen County 4-H activities.
In between home, church life and chasing after their two now-adult sons, Trent, 21, and Ty, 19, there are rarely two days without something occurring here or there, they agreed.
JEFF grew up on a cattle farm near Redfield, the son of Andy and Karen Johnson.
He knew he wanted to work cattle, but his father insisted that Jeff find a second full-time career in case the cattle markets go south (which they are known to do.)
A family friend convinced him to go to school to pursue a career in banking.
He graduated college in 1987 and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where he worked for a few years as a bank examiner for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).
The job was good enough, but Jeff had a hankering to get a job closer to home.
He did so in 1989, landing at Iola Bank and Trust.
Jeff sought a farm to have of his own, and found a spread to his liking, owned by the late Ruby Fink. (Her husband, A.G., had died a short while earlier.)
“Ruby was such a wonderful lady,” Jeff recalled. “She was looking to find a young family to take over the farm — the next generation.”
Jeff bought the farm, and surrounding 240 acres in the fall of 1991.
It was around that time Jeff was introduced by one of his former coworkers, Iola’s Sandy Ellis, to young Laura Walburn.
The pair hit it off and were married in 1992.
Laura, the daughter of two teachers, had already started on a career of her own.
She’d earned her elementary education degree and had worked in Mulvane before she, too, wanted to settle closer to her native roots.
She returned to Allen County to teach in Iola, first at McKinley Elementary, then at Iola Middle School.
She left the teaching world once motherhood arrived.
ALTHOUGH she’d never farmed before, aside from occasionally helping as a youngster at a relative’s farm near El Dorado during the summer, Laura quickly became a reliable hand, Jeff noted.
She’ll help man the loading chutes when cattle are about to be transported. She’s also assisted with branding operations, and occasionally held a bull’s tail while it is — ahem — “clipped.”
“Maybe we won’t mention that,” she said sheepishly.
And while she’d never had a green thumb before being married, Laura now grows a bountiful harvest of produce each year.
(This reporter’s visit was highlighted by a fresh-out-of-the-oven serving of homemade apple pie, with apples she harvested from trees in their front yard.)
The Johnsons also insist on preserving a part of the farm’s history. They keep a “Fink” sign displayed on their barn, in honor of the land’s previous owners.
RECRUITING others to become involved in civic organizations remains a goal as well.
Jeff noted the average age of the Moran Ruritan club is likely in the 70s. It, like several others, must soon get younger blood in order to remain viable into the future.
“One of the things I noticed when I moved back was there are few communities that have so many people willing to help others,” he said. “These communities are important. We want that to continue.”