Meet Shawnee Senior Center employee Johnna

Bobbi Gaglia

I’ve written about people who volunteer at the center, people who come to the center, board members at the center, and events that have happened at the center. I was talking to Kate the other day and we decided that the people who work at the center every day are the ones you should also get to know. If you come on a regular basis to the center you probably know everyone’s name who works here and the people who volunteer. And that’s a good thing cause I think they are all people people. They all enjoy working at the center and being around the people who come to spend the day or even an hour of the day here at the center. Well enough of the reason WHY the focus will be on the employees of the center and on to my choice for this week: Johnna Lindsey Lewis, or simply Johnna.

Johnna is the youngest person employed at the center and although she is not one of the “50 and better” group, she is special for someone so young. Technically she is the custodian. Realistically she is the all-around “go to person” when everyone is busy and someone needs help. She is the lead breakfast person because she’s here every morning and she knows everyone who comes to breakfast by name. She helps with lunch when needed (she makes a “mean” cobbler and, in my opinion, the best coleslaw in Shawnee). So if you now have the idea she can cook, you’re right.

But that’s not all of the things that the center asks her to do. In case you don’t know, the center has community service workers who are mandated by the courts to work at non-profit businesses throughout the city as a part of the sentences they have received through the court system. Johnna is the one at the center who makes sure that they keep busy and stay focused.

As I’m sure I have mentioned in the past, the center rents out any and all of the rooms in the building for events that you might want to have in a location separate from your home or business. It is Johnna’s responsibility to make sure that the equipment you need for the number of people you will have is set up for you in the way you would like it to be. That could mean moving chairs and tables around to suit your needs but it also means making sure that the center itself is clean and ready for people to enjoy themselves.

Johnna was born and raised in Meeker. Her family moved to Shawnee when she was a junior in high school. As it happens sometimes, the move wasn’t a good one for Johnna. Hanging around with the wrong crowd happened and the next years were not terrific ones for her, and she alienated most of her family. However, even though they were pretty bad years, she still managed to get her high school GED and complete two years of college.

The big turnaround part was probably the most unusual part of her story. Johnna was working odd jobs building log homes and serving as head cook at Jay’s Steak House. She was living in a trailer near Jay’s and a friend was living in a house on the same property. Her friend got into trouble with the authorities and took off. Johnna was in his house when the police came and found her there and the guy they wanted was not. It was during this time that she met Percy Payne. He was much older than her and was not well.

Now here comes the strange part. Johnna was formally accused of “harboring a fugitive.” Now remember, she was in her friend’s house, not hers, and she didn’t live there. None of those facts were apparently taken into consideration and so Johnna spent 147 days in jail. Not a good time for her, but one that helped to turn her life around. When she was released she had nowhere to go and spent some time homeless. It was Percy Payne who then took her in. They became friends, taking care of each other and Johnna’s life changed. Johnna cleaned houses and took care of Percy as well as her dad. She reunited with her family and became a part of their lives.

Johnna ‘s story doesn’t have an ending, it has a continuing. By that I mean she turned her life around. She has proven to her family, her co-workers, her friends and herself that she is a truly remarkable person. Johnna’s smile brightens the room. Her willingness to help anyone is a fact that she proves at the center over and over again. She does have one small downfall, however. She needs at least five alarm clocks to wake her up in the morning. She sleeps through the loudest ones she can buy but she is getting better at that and it helps that she lives so close to the center. When I asked what would she say if asked for something she would like to pass on to others, her quote was “Take time to listen, because sometimes, people’s lives can depend on you.” Johnna greets everyone with a smile. And, I’ve noticed that almost everyone smiles back. When you next visit the center, make a point to say “Hi” to Johnna and see if you don’t just find yourself returning her smile.

Now before I close this column I want to add one more thing. Nice things happen to nice people and the people at the Shawnee center are nice people. The ones who work there and the ones who visit and I am so excited to tell you that we received a wonderful ping pong table with a new set of paddles and ping pong balls along with a pretty good sized dart board to go in our pool room thanks to Marlon Wood. His wonderfully kind donation is now sitting in the pool room. If you haven’t been at the center in the past week and wandered up the ramp to the pool room, then you haven’t had the opportunity to try out our new equipment. With all the new neat stuff we got we may have to stop calling it the “pool room” and start calling it the “recreational equipment room,” though that is quite a mouthful to say.

And, of course, please remember to check out “Mike in the Morning” on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 8:35 a.m. for the latest news from Kate Joyce and the Shawnee Senior Center.

And also remember that at the Shawnee Senior Center, “age is just a number.” The website is and the Facebook page is “Shawnee Senior Center.

See you at the center!