Man has lifelong love of boats and Christmas
News, December 24, 1999
A love of Ohio River Boats, Christmas and public service
lives in the heart of Jack Johnson.
Johnson, 85, a 20-year city
councilman who lives on Dewey
Avenue in St. Marys is passionate about Christmas
because he and his wife because and his wife were married on Christmas 1936.
They were married by his late
father, who became a Methodist minister after working for Monongahela Power Co.
Jack and Wanda Johnson also had a
daughter, Joanna, who was born on Christmas Day 1937.
Joanna whose last name is now
McFarland lives in St. Marys. The Johnson’s other daughter, Nancy Holpp, born
in 1940, lives in Newport.
If Jack Johnson spent half of his
life working, the other half he spent building boats and sharing experiences
with his family on the river.
He met his wife on the river in
1934. The first time he saw him, he was rowing a canoe. She was 18, walking
along the riverbank in St. Marys with a cousin.
“I was there just visiting.” Mrs.
Johnson said. “He rowed up to the shore and asked me if I wanted to go for a
ride, but I didn’t go. I went boating with him later though.”
Jack Johnson was born Jan. 22, 1914 in Clarksburg to the late
Carl and Allie Johnson.
Johnson’s father began his career
cleaning street cars in Harrison
County before working his
way up to superintendent of transportation for Monongahela Power in Clarksburg.
“Dad was well-known in Clarksburg,” Johnson
said. “He worked for the power company several years, then, some preacher
talked him into preaching.”
When Carl Johnson entered the
ministry, the family moved to Parsons in Tucker County,
then to St. Marys.
Jack Johnson was a freshman in high
school when he and his parents moved to St. Marys in 1929. Johnson graduated
from St. Marys High in 1933.
Wanda Johnson was born Dec. 27, 1916 (two-days
after Christmas) in Spencer, Roane
County, to the late
Charles and Myrtle Ellis.
She attended Spencer High School
before moving to Pleasants
County in her late teens.
She graduated from St. Marys High in 1935.
She was still in high school when
she met Jack Johnson.
In 1939, Mr. Johnson got a job at
the Quaker State refinery and retired in 1978.
Johnson worked in the plant during
World War II. He began building boats for his family after the war in his spare
“Boats were just in my blood, I
guess.” Johnson said. “I’d get home from my job and work on them.”
Johnson’s boats steadily became
larger. The first boat he built was an 8-foot-long johnboat.
“We were living in an old house, and
he built this boat in the upstairs.” Mrs. Johnson said. “We had to remove the
windows to get it out after it was finished. But, my husband knew the boat
would fit because he had it measured.”
Johnson built an 18-foot cruiser
before talking his masterpiece, a 28-foot- long, 8-foot-wide houseboat, which
he constructed in the early 1950s.
“Houseboats were new then” Johnson
said. “I saw a few on the river, and thought it’d be nice to build one.”
Johnson and his family were living
on Sixth Street
then. He built the boat in their backyard during one summer, fall and winter.
“I worked on it every day it was
fit to work.” Johnson said.
Like all his other boats, Johnson
used no power tools. His primary tools were a handsaw and plane.
Johnson used oak for the bow and
frame of the houseboat. The boat was finished with one-fourth inch waterproof
plywood, bonded with waterproof glue and covered with fiberglass. The finished
houseboat had a large room with a kitchen, kerosene stove, refrigerator and
bunk beds. The Johnsons took the boat for a four-hour trip to Charleston in the ‘50s and enjoyed many other
After Johnson retired, he began
making miniature model boats.
He has 10 of these models displayed
on his wall in his house. Most of the model boats are sternwheelers and
“St Marys used to have a lot of
river traffic.” Johnson said. “Boats would drop off goods in town, and we’d
Johnson hasn’t made any model boats
for a while now. He was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus about three
years ago, shortly before the cancer was remover by a surgeon.
“After the operation, they told me
I could do nothing, take chemo, which would make me sicker than a dog, or do
radiation.” Johnson said.
“I decided to take my chances and o
nothing,” he said. “I’ve been feeling all right lately. I get regular
check-ups, and the doctors said they got it all.”
Johnson is finishing up his last
term on St. Mays City Council. He doesn’t plan to run for office again.
Mayor Lou Flade said Johnson is on
e of the town’s most giving citizen and was instrumental in putting up most of
the street lights in St Marys and building a stage at the town Marina.
Johnson was honored as the first
recipient of the St Marys Municipal Service Award, which was presented to him Oct. 15, 1998.