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Johnson honored for 48 years of service

Drew Johnson moved to Demopolis 48 years ago. Given the remarkable amount he’s done for the community and its residents since then, it’s something of a shame it didn’t happen earlier.

In a show of thanks for those 48 years of selfless service to Demopolis, Johnson was named Citizen of the Year by the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce at its annual banquet Monday night. In what will not come as a surprise to those know him, Johnson feels humbled by the honor.

“I really don’t have the vocabulary to express my thanks and my feelings for the other night,” Johnson said in an interview at his home Thursday. “My wife did not reveal to me that I was going to win anything, so it came as a complete surprise.”

There are few folks around who would likely appreciate such a surprise as much as Johnson.

“It’s very rewarding,” Johnson said. “We grew up in the Depression. We didn’t have much, so it doesn’t take much for us to really appreciate it.”

At the age of 81, Johnson has had the chance to live out a motto he said he “told his wife some time ago,” and that Chamber Chairman of the Board Allen Bishop alluded to Monday night.

“This individual has said that we are here to learn for twenty years, earn for forty years, and serve for twenty years,” said Bishop, just prior to giving Johnson the honor. “We’re all hoping he’s just getting started on a second twenty years of serving.”

Johnson helped explain his emphasis on service on Tuesday.

“We’re not put here just to satisfy our own whims and desires,” he said. “I really believe that ‘To be great is to serve.’ It’s like the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, that it’s only in giving that we receive.”

Many people might espouse such beliefs, but there are few who would back them up with action. Johnson is one of them.

For starters, there’s his devotion to his church, First Baptist of Demopolis. He teaches Sunday school, leads Bible Study, is an active deacon, and serves on the church’s Budget and Stewardship committee. One important aspect of his service as a deacon is to help those members of the church who have lost a husband.

“One of our weekly duties is that we each have a number of widows we look after,” he says. “We make sure we spend time with them and, if necessary, provide them with good transportation to Tuscaloosa or wherever they might need to go for medical care.”

Thanks to his great interest in computers (an interest many would no doubt find surprising in a man of Johnson’s age), Johnson is also able to help church members with their technological difficulties.

“I like to help keep these widows’ computers running,” he says. “I can do some troubleshooting, and if I can’t fix it, I usually know someone who can.”

Some Demopolis citizens can also count on Johnson come tax time.

“I do income taxes for a number of senior citizens here,” he says. “I used to do it through AARP, and now I just do it independently. There’s a selected few I’ve been able to do for years.”

Although his work with area senior citizens would be enough to qualify him for an award, with Johnson it’s only the tip of the iceberg. He’s worked with the Chamber’s 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ben Sherrod in the Kairos program, helping children on probation lead better lives. He calls it a “great privilege,” which is the same thing he’d say about being Chairman of the Marengo Department of Human Resources, which he has done for many years. Or about working with the Demopolis City Schools Foundation, where he serves on the Board of Directors. helping with the Foundation’s budget and finances. He’s a member of the Board of Directors for the credit union he belongs to. And on top of all that service to his community, Johnson has served his country as well, as a member of the infantry in the Pacific theater during World War II.

The list could probably occupy a good many more words, but the interview can only last for so long.

“I’m teaching a Bible class this afternoon,” Johnson says. “I’ve got a patient to take to the VA hospital tomorrow…I do keep fairly busy.”

That he sees his schedule as only “fairly” busy explains a lot about why Johnson is the 2005 Citizen of the Year, but it also says a lot about why he feels so honored by the award in the first place.

“It’s my pleasure to serve the community,” he says. “They couldn’t have been given me anything that could have meant more to me.”