It is with great sadness that I write about the passing of LaVern Johnson. She was the Matriarch of the Town of Lyons, and a mother figure to many, but to me she was a friend.
I met LaVern when I started to work on video-taping interviews of Lyons Pioneers in 1998. I tapped her as a resource — with her deep knowledge of early life in Lyons, she was able to make sure my list of people to interview was complete.
I soon began to work 20 hours part-time at the museum and 20 hours volunteer (since there was a small annual staff wages budget), using my business and marketing skills to update the filing system and create new exhibits, programs and fundraisers. We were a team in saving and promoting Lyons History. While she was the director of the museum, and I was the worker bee, she made me feel equal, and gave me free rein to achieve the museum’s mission. Around town, and at various historic society events and meetings, she introduced me as her “co-hort.” I thought it was an odd word, but eventually understood that she was saying we were co-workers.
I often saw her encouraging other people to “go for it,” and make their projects a reality. I saw her promoting the expansion of the parks, preservation of old buildings, and more. She also lead her life with a “go for it” attitude. When the museum was showing its age (it was built in 1881) she didn’t depend on the “landlord” to do the repairs, but wrote grants and raised over $400,000 over a couple of years to update it, following proper “history preservation” criteria.
She didn’t just hang out with the fellow trustees and commissioners or the old time pioneers. She was all for progress in the town (as long as it didn’t mean damaging historic buildings). When new people came to town she’d want to know everything about them, where they came from, how old were their kids, and more. And, often when we had a big event with locals, like special birthday parties, she would go around the room and tell everyone the story about each person. I caught her by surprise once, when she was celebrating her 80th birthday party, and turned the tables on her. I told her to sit down and relax, and I went around the room, and I had everyone tell a story about HER! (which they happily did)
When the weekly Lyons Recorder newspaper almost died on a few occasions over the decades, we made an uproar about saving it. The latest time was two summers ago. She knew my considerable business and writing skills, and she once again pushed me to take it over, so here I am. I edited and published her column over the past couple of years, and when I would send her things to put in it, she kept saying “where’d you get that? Do you own column,” and so now that I’m editor of the newspaper, I am doing my own column. It turned out there was enough news for two columns, and both were equally read!
Her unfinished fight was to save the traditional community get-together Good Old Days. The Town of Lyons keeps chipping away at it, for years. But! it is saved at least for one more year.
LaVern’s passing leaves a big hole in my life.. my brain and heart are in a flux… I will not be doing my column for a few weeks. I will be spending time honoring her by finishing off some of the half dozen projects at the museum that we had talked about… and regret not having LaVern around to share them with. But I will soon return to my “Editor’s Notes” so that Lyons will still have one of its two “social columns” to keep up to date with town news.
………….Your Editor, Kathleen Spring
This Week’s Articles: This is an “all Lavern issue”
There is no usual “News Briefs and Notes from Your Editor” this week. We are in mourning.
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