Johnson honored for a life devoted to the community

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 20, 2006

Although Burnquetta Johnson isn’t sure why she was named this year’s citizen of the year, Demopolis Chamber of Commerce board of directors chairman Alex Braswell said she was the most worthy nominee by far.

“Miss Burnquetta is no doubt the most deserving for the title. She’s involved with numerous activities in the chamber and she’s committed to education and the community,” Braswell said.

“She just helps the city with a world of different activities. All these things made her a great choice and put her head and shoulders above anyone else on the citizen board.”

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But Johnson, a modest Demopolis native, said she never thought she would be recognized for the things she did in such a manner.

“I have no idea why they chose me. Apparently some person thought I did something worthwhile,” she said.

“I guess I just lived in Demopolis for so long…But I am thrilled. I got a lot of nice notes from people.”

The year was 1963 when Johnson decided to leave the city she was born and raised in to move to Sumter County, but quickly returned to “The City of the People” one year later.

” I taught in Sumter County for one year before I came back to Demopolis to teach at U.S. Jones,” she said. “Then they integrated the school with Westside at the Old School and when enrollment dropped, I went to Westside.”

Johnson then spent the next 40 years bouncing between teaching students at Westside and U.S. Jones.

“I’ve probably taught about half the people in Demopolis,” she laughed. “I’ve taught most of the bank employees, most of the teachers at Westside, Dr. Holifield, Dr. Ketcham, Dr. Fitzgerald and Dr. Long.”

Even though spending five days a week with children would tire most people, Johnson also worked part time at a local flower shop when she wasn’t in class.

Determined not to stop the tradition of being a hardworker, Johnson still keeps herself busy, even as a retiree.

“Idle minds are the devil’s workshop so I have to keep busy,” she said, “and I can do that.”

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Johnson tutors at Westside Elementary at the end of their school days. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, she goes to U.S. Jones to help students with their after-school work. To finish off the week, Johnson spends the day working at Maison de Briques on Highway 80.

“I knew Jay Shows from Best Western and one day he called and wanted to know if I could answer the phone, so I go help at the Chamber when I am needed,” she said. “I helped the mayor purge the voter list at city hall during election time and they needed someone to give business licenses out. Now they call me when they are short of help. So Sundays and Saturdays are my only free days.”

Even after retiring from teaching two years ago, Johnson still puts her Elementary Education degree from Alabama A&M to work as a substitute in the Demopolis City School System.

“I do a little substituting and I am on the library board,” she said, adding to the list of her community involvement. “I just do whatever I can to help.”

Although she doesn’t feel obligated to help because of her family’s community involvement, Johnson said she grew up in a service-oriented home.

“My dad worked for the railroad company and my mother would make Brunswick stew for the whole city when I was younger,” she said referring to her childhood growing up in a home with seven siblings. “There were eight of us and everyone else left Demopolis except me.”

Johnson’s year in Sumter County was the one moment she spent away from her birthplace, and she doesn’t regret coming back.

“I had a job here,” she said. “That’s why I stayed.”

In the unusual event that she has a moment to spare, Johnson enjoys reading, cooking, baking and doing a little shopping.

“I shop a little bit, but I am not that crazy about it,” she said.

Johnson describes herself as “low-key,” but her community actions, but to call her contributions to the Demopolis community the same, would be underrated.

At the age of 63, Johnson has no plans to stop lending a hand to the city.

“You know how things rust after just sitting there?” she said. “Well, I plan to wear out, not rust out.”