City of Blackwell says goodbye to Mike Johnson

by Charles Gerian

Employees of the City of Blackwell said goodbye to Mike Johnson after his 14-year career with the Streets and Parks Department. Johnson's retirement party was held May 28 at City Hall, where City Manager Janet Smith and Department Manager Chuck Anderson gave heartfelt farewells to Johnson. He was surrounded by his co-workers and family members.

“Thank you so much for everything you've done for us, and for the city,” Smith said during Johnson’s party. “This isn't ‘Goodbye,’ but we're sending you off. I know I haven't gotten to know you like everyone else has, but you've been great to work with, and I really do appreciate you.”

Along with his years of hard labor, Johnson might be more easily recognized in black-and-white clothing: He's been a referee for 44 years. Johnson, who has been a referee since he graduated from high school, has called basketball, baseball, and softball games.

His calls are something Anderson never forgot.

“Approximately 40 years ago, I moved with my family from Ark City to Blackwell,” he said. “I was then enrolled in high school basketball in Blackwell Christian Academy. After some time on the team, I realized there was one referee who had it in for me. That man's name was Mike Johnson. He'd call fouls, traveling, three seconds in the lane ... game after game, season after season. ... I swore one day I would have my revenge.

“Fast forward to January of 2014. I was department head and needed to promote someone to the foreman position. I decided it would be Mike. Oh, the sweet revenge. I gave him the one task that drives him up the wall ... dealing with millennials. And I hired a whole crew of them.”

Anderson continued before choking up: “Making Mike our foreman was one of the smartest moves I ever made. His knowledge and willingness to tackle any task I gave him made my job a lot easier. Any time Mike oversaw a job site, I knew the job would get done efficiently, safely, and exceed my expectations. All I'd have to do is tell him what we wanted, and he'd say, ‘Alright, let's get 'er done.'”

Anderson concluded, saying: “Mike has been a blessing to Blackwell, and he will be greatly missed. I don't know who's taking Mike's place, but they'll have big shoes to fill. Literally. He wears a size 14.”

Johnson, a graduate from the Braman Class of 1974, was born in 1955 and was six days old when a devastating tornado tore through Blackwell on May 25. Johnson recalled his mom telling him that she rolled him up in a mattress with her to protect them from the damage.

Johnson, the oldest of five children, farmed with his dad until the early 1980s. They raised cattle, farmed wheat, and hauled hay, among other activities. Following his time farming, Johnson spent 24 years at Kelle Oil before coming to work for the City of Blackwell in 2006. He spent time between City Hall and the electric department for a year before his transfer in 2007 to the street department.

“I was married to that street sweeper,” Johnson joked. “Before me, they hadn't had anyone operate that thing in years. ... So that's what I did.”

When asked what an average day is in the street department, Johnson and Anderson replied that they do “anything nobody else wants to.”

“I love working with the public,” Johnson said. “I have a great boss and made several lifelong friends. I love seeing people every day, and I'll miss it. ... But I think it's time to take it easy.”

Johnson operates a small mowing business. He plans to spend time with his family and, of course, “do a lot of fishing.”