Growing up in rural Oklahoma during the Great Depression, living off his family’s garden and a milk cow, then serving in the U.S. Army during the battles of World War II, all provided lessons that prompted Cecil Johnston to work hard to serve, volunteer and help others.
The retired U.S. Army major was honored Tuesday night with the American Legion’s Lifetime Service Award. His wife, Louise, also received a Lifetime Service Award.
Johnston also served as speaker for the annual American Legion Post 16 awards banquet and spoke informally before the crowd in a conversation with Commander Dr. Tony Litherland.
Johnston shared all the reasons he volunteers and works so hard to help others. Growing up on a farm had a great impact on his life. And while he grew up during the Great Depression, he learned from his father that everyone needs a garden to grow their own food and a milk cow to provide milk and butter.
“We learned how to survive with not very much of anything,” Johnston said, adding he learned never to argue with his mother or father.
“I enjoyed my life — I learned how to work,” he said.
He spoke of stories of his childhood, including the day he remembers being a kid rolling up newspapers for his route in the “metropolis” of Earlsboro, he said, where he saw Pretty Boy Floyd, a notorious bank robber, come into a store there.
His first service was a career in the military; he spoke briefly about meeting Gen. George S. Patton.
Through all of his lessons in life, one of the most important, Johnston said, was “My momma said if you can’t something good, don’t say anything.”
And that’s why Johnston always looks for the good in everything and everyone.
“I’ve never found anyone that I didn’t find something good if I looked hard enough,” he said.
And so his motto is to always help and never quit trying.
“I try to find something I can do and help somebody somewhere along the way,” he said. “I’m traveling through this world…and it won’t be much time as I go through…I want to help everyone I can.”
And with that, the theme was to honor all those who serve and “never quit.”
An American Legion award was presented to Shawnee Milling Company for years of support to veterans in Shawnee, with Bill Ford accepting that award.
Page 2 of 2 - Barbara White, Veterans of Foreign Wars volunteer, also received the American Legion’s Lifetime Service Award.
Educators from Shawnee Public Schools and Gordon Cooper Technology Center were recognized.
Shawnee Superintendent Marc Moore recognized the retiring Steve Beall, assisting superintendent, with a Lifetime Service Award.
Moore also honored Melissa Farias, Shawnee’s teacher of the year.
Brett Byrum from GCTC honored Ed Jolly as the non-certified instructor of the year and Lori McCollough as the certified instructor of the year.
The American Legion Annual Commander’s Award was presented to the legion’s Bingo Team, which works every Saturday night to help with fundraising.
Accepting awards were Dean McBride and Thomas Combs. Absent, but also receiving honors were Thurman Wagoner, Doc Michael Salrin, Larry Smith and James Thorpe.
The following, who were not present for the awards banquet, also were on the program to be honored:
• Daniel Columbus, Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year
• Brent Vanlandingham, Reserve Pottawatomie County Deputy of the Year.
• Deputy Josh Soward, lifesaving award.
• Iva Bingham, Tecumseh Public Schools Teacher of the Year.
• Troy Kinnett, recipient of the American Legion’s Lifetime Service Award.