Dan and Linda Johnson take the idea of giving back very seriously.
Just ask about their volunteer service, and even they have a difficult time remembering the long, long list of organizations.
After Saturday, they’ll be able to add “City Marshals” for the Farm-City Days parade.
They each credit their parents for teaching the value of community service. It was something they grew up with.
“I enjoy it. I like to be around people,” Linda said. “I just like giving back to the community.”
“That’s why we’re put on this Earth. To help people,” Dan added.
LINDA grew up on a farm near Garden City. She attended Fort Hays State University and earned a master’s degree from Emporia State University.
Linda remembers searching for kindergarten teaching jobs during her senior year at Fort Hays. She found one at Jefferson Elementary School in Iola in 1971. She would stay with the district for 46 years.
Dan grew up in Neligh, Neb. His father was a district manager for Nebraska Public Power, and whose boss was Johnny Carson’s dad. Although Dan’s dad got to meet the late night host, Dan never did.
Dan and Linda’s paths crossed, quite literally, in Topeka.
Dan and a friend were cruising up and down Topeka’s main drag when they saw Linda and a group of other teachers who were in town for a meeting. Dan stopped to chat and invited her out to eat.
When asked what attracted her to Dan, Linda was momentarily stumped. “I don’t know. I just liked him. He was funny, I guess. He was nice.”
“We’ve been married too long,” Dan interjected, taking her off the hot seat.
He thought she had a good sense of humor, and was impressed by how much she loved children.
The couple married in 1973, after Dan’s service in the Air Force. He completed his education on a GI Bill at Pittsburg State University. He later took a job as a technician with Copy Products in Iola, where he would remain until retirement 35 years later.
They raised three boys: Rick, of Wilmington, Del.; Chad, of Union, N.J.; and Bryan, of Iola. They also have six grandchildren.
AFTER 46 years of teaching kindergarten — with two sessions before Iola schools went to all-day kindergarten — Linda has taught hundreds of students. She’s never counted them, though she’s thought about pulling out old yearbooks and giving it a shot.
“My career was very rewarding,” she said. “I enjoyed the little ones and how they remember you when they get older.”
It’s pretty common for her to cross paths with a former student. More often than not (at least, before the coronavirus) they want to give her a hug.
Sometimes, though, she needs to ask their name. She always remembers them.
“They change in looks so much from the time they’re in kindergarten to, well, when they grow up,” she said.
Dan, who also enjoyed his career and the interactions he had with clients, clearly admires how much Linda still means to her former students.
“I know you’ve got to have a job so you can make money, but you need to find a job you enjoy doing, that’s more like a hobby than a job,” he said.
“WE DO a lot of volunteering,” Linda said.
Together, they volunteer at the Bowlus Fine Arts Center, Second Chance Thrift Store and the commodity food distribution at the Wesley United Methodist Church. They also help with the recycling program.
Years ago, they were part of the Jaycees, which they think may have been their first volunteer service.
Dan is part of the Elks Club and the Iola Rotary Club. He’s been in several community theater performances. He also plays with the Iola Municipal Band, the Southeast Kansas symphony orchestra and takes part in the Christmas Vespers program.
Linda volunteers with Wesley’s afterschool program, Seeds and Sprouts. She also serves with the PEO Club and Daughters of the American Revolution. She’s on the Iola Reads committee for the Friends of the Library.
Before the coronavirus, Linda volunteered with the hospital auxiliary and read to first graders at Jefferson in the morning before school. Because of the pandemic, she can no longer go into the hospital or schools.
And every year, Linda offers her paper-cutting skills to the kindergarten teachers at McKinley Elementary School. She spends most of her evenings cutting out numbers, letters and shapes so the teachers can focus on other things.
“I know how much cutting they have to do, and even though they have paras, they need that time to connect with students,” Linda said. “I can sit at home and watch television and cut paper. They’ve always got something that I can help with.”