KUNA — Don and Mary Johnson have been hard at work since 1960 keeping the community they love a positive place for children and families. Between putting two generations through the Kuna school district, raising dairy cattle, helping build libraries, volunteering at the Kuna Grange, helping families in need through their church, working to expand the fire district and working as school board members, the Johnsons have directly or indirectly touched the lives of nearly every resident in Kuna. Their work will impact future residents, too, as they benefit from the couple's dedication and love for their town.

“They have certainly taken an active part in their community,” Florence Chaney, a longtime friend and member of the Kuna Grange, said. “We know we can call them if we need help with anything. They are kind of like family because they are involved in almost everything. It wouldn't be Kuna without them.”

GROWING DEEP ROOTS

Don Johnson was raised by Cliff and Zelma Johnson who moved to Kuna from Nebraska in 1942. The Johnson family purchased land and built a small farmhouse on Lake Hazel and Ten Mile Road, and over the years three generations grew up raising dairy on the same parcel. Don and Mary Johnson sold the large parcel of acreage last year to move into a smaller home in Kuna.

Don Johnson attended school in Kuna when all the grades were set in one building on Fourth Street. Most of the old school building is gone but Don Johnson's old gymnasium still stands today. Indian Creek Elementary School is located in the same spot as the old Kuna school building.

“We didn't have school buses even back then,” Don Johnson said. “We had a truck with a tent top and the only heat in the winter was the exhaust.”

Don Johnson graduated in 1955 from Kuna High School with 37 other students. After high school, he attended the University of Idaho to study agriculture until he graduated in 1959.

“My sister Fern was a cheerleader,” Don Johnson said. “I always had chores to do back home. I was involved in some sports and the FFA. I went to the National FFA Convention in Kansas while at school and met President Eisenhower.”

While Don Johnson was growing up and farming in Kuna, his future wife, Mary, was living in Idaho Falls.

Mary attended Link's School of Business with Don's sister Fern Johnson. Fern Johnson was engaged to get married in 1959, and the wedding was going to be held in the Fourth Street Gymnasium in Kuna. Fern Johnson asked Mary to be one of her bridesmaids.

“Well, I was the only one not married among our friends,” Don Johnson said. “And so was Mary. I met her the day of the wedding.”

“When I first met him I thought he was handsome,” Mary Johnson said. “I always joke that he got to walk me down the aisle twice.”

During the wedding, Don and Mary enjoyed each other's company, but Mary had to go back home to Idaho Falls the next day.

“During my time in college I was exempted from the draft,” Don Johnson said. “So I decided it was my time to serve my country.”

Don Johnson joined the Idaho Air Guard and was sent to boot camp in 1959 soon after his sister's wedding. He served for six years, but was never sent on a tour overseas. On a train to camp, he was stopped in Pocatello and decided to call up Mary.

“He asked if he could send me letters while he was at camp,” Mary Johnson said. “Most of our courtship was letters.”

After boot camp, Don Johnson kept in touch with Mary and made one or two holiday visits to Idaho Falls. Soon, the two were engaged and got married on June 24, 1960.

“We built a house on Lake Hazel (Road),” Don Johnson said. “We moved in that June and worked on my parents' acres.”

The two ran the dairy for 40 years after Cliff and Zelma Johnson passed away. On that 40 acres, the couple raised a family of three boys, Chuck Johnson, Norman Johnson and Greg Johnson. The acreage grew from 40 acres to 60, then to 125 and then it grew again to 300 acres.

“It was all a blessing,” Mary Johnson said. “Our sons did some dairy, were a part of the FFA.”

While raising their family, the couple decided it was their duty to give back to the their community and home. As the couple reaches their 57th wedding anniversary, they look back on all the years they spent giving to Kuna.

A LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Don Johnson has been a member of the Kuna Grange for more than 50 years along with Mary Johnson. He has also been on almost every board or committee the community has to offer.

“I was on the school board as a trustee for one term,” Don Johnson said. “From 1979 till 1982. I was a fire commissioner for 14 years, and I was one of the first members of the Kuna Library board of trustees. I enjoy working with people and seeing things happen, being a part of the leadership.”

During Don Johnson's time as a fire commissioner, he helped oversee the growth of the district.

“It was something the community was in need of,” Don Johnson said. “There was only three of us on the commission and if two of us met, maybe for lunch, it would be a quorum. So we moved to make the commission bigger for five members.”

During his time on the commission, Don Johnson helped find funds to build the current fire station and build the fleet of trucks and emergency medical professionals.

“We only had a one-man police department,” Don Johnson said. “And our police officer was also our ambulance. He would drive people from Kuna to Boise or Nampa for the hospital.”

One of Don Johnson's proudest moments, he said, was helping pass the bond to build the Kuna Public Library.

Before the current building was constructed, the library was run out of Kuna High School. Johnson hired Anne Hankins as the library director, who retired at the beginning of the year. During those first years, the library director was a member of the school board, and the library was a part of the Kuna school district. In 1992, the Idaho Legislature created a new law that forcibly broke libraries away from other parent districts, such as the Kuna school district. Because of this, and the need to grow and become accessible, Don Johnson and other members of the library board began campaigning for a new library bond.

“He really campaigned and pushed for it,” Dallas Chaney, a longtime friend, said. “He was a big part of why it passed.”

The library board worked with the school district and decided to build the library on the original Kuna High School football field.

“There had never been a bond of that size passed in Kuna before,” Don Johnson said. “It made a lot of work. It passed with an 85 percent approval.”

While Don Johnson was busy with his volunteering and leadership roles, Mary Johnson was working behind the scenes and becoming a leader, as well.

“She was the first female Grange president in Idaho,” Don Johnson said.

“I voted for her,” Florence Chaney said. “She was always so involved in everything. Mary was versatile. If it needed a volunteer, she would do it. Between (parent, teacher association), the Grange, school activities and church volunteering.”

Mary and Don Johnson are still vital members of the Kuna Grange No. 59, which helps volunteer in the community and support children's education.

“We give dictionaries every year to third-grade students,” Don Johnson said. “We call it 'Words for Thirds.'”

Mary Johnson said the Kuna Grange has given dictionaries for 13 years, and they donate 300 to 500 of the dictionaries to local students. She hasn't stopped to retire either. When meeting Mary Johnson at her house, she will hold a conversation with you while she works at her table.

“I'm a care pastor for our local church,” Mary said. “I am constantly working with families who need my support.”

“It's offering pastoral care to anyone in need,” Karen Hernandez, minister of the Kuna United Methodist Church, said. “They might be in need of a hospital visit, but they might just be in need of support. When a mom has a new baby or a family is new in town. We have a team of care pastors in church to offer help in times of crisis or just to offer friendship. (Mary) was in our first class of care pastors and they were commissioned in 2013.”

The Johnsons have been members of the Kuna United Methodist Church since 1960 and have volunteered with the church the entire time.

“Without hesitation, they embody their faith by their generosity of caring and stewardship through all their wisdom and resources,” Hernandez said. “Their faithfulness through the thick and thin times, through the transitions, their constant presence and support seems unending. It shows in every facet of their lives that I've ever seen.”

For a long time, Mary Johnson has also organized cost-free dinners, through the church, for families who had a family member or friend die in the community.

“Whether they are having a funeral or just a place to meet, we offer a free meal,” Hernandez said. “And Mary has been organizing, cooking and hosting those dinners for years. I come in very early and she'll still be at the church before me and she stays very late to clean up.”

Don and Mary Johnson may have sold their farm and have taken a step back from larger leadership roles, but their presence of generosity and stewardship is still apparent in the community.

“We need people to step up and help out,” Dallas Chaney said. “It's important for everyone.”

“I think Don and Mary care so much that they not only did the really important organizational work to make things happen,” Hernandez said. “They are proud of that work, but they get really excited when they see kids in our community. Not just their (grandchildren) or (great-grandchildren), they truly love the kids in this church. Their motivation was not to have accomplishments but to build a better community for future generations. And they've done that work for so long they have seen multiple generations benefit from the library, the schools and those things. They really love Kuna.”

Danielle Wiley is the reporter for the Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 922-3008 or email her at editor@kunamelba.com

Comments

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.