(Posted June 16, 2016)
By Kristy Zurbrick. Madison Editor
That one word goes a long way in summing up the driving force in the lives of Pastor Gordon and Ruthanne Johnson, this year’s London Strawberry Festival parade grand marshals.
The Johnsons’ connection to London began in 1967 when Gordon was called to serve as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. He had spent the early part of his career, serving congregations in Lakeview, Bowling Green and Deshler, Ohio.
The church was on the cusp of transition at the time, trying to decide whether or not to relocate from its downtown London location. Without a clear consensus, the congregation opted to stay put for a while and focus on developing a mission.
“More women were working, and there was no daycare in the county and only one or two preschools, including our small one,” Gordon said. “So, we came up with the idea that our mission would be to provide that service. To do that, we had to relocate.”
The new First Presbyterian Church opened as a daycare and preschool center in 1972 on Garfield Avenue. The congregation also used the space for worship and Sunday school. It wasn’t until 10 years later that a separate sanctuary was built.
Today, the church continues full force with its mission, providing daycare and preschool services to 180 children and employing over 30 people from the community. The congregation subsidizes the center’s operations in order to keep fees as low as possible.
Along with Gordon, Ruthanne is at the church helping in some capacity “whenever the doors are open.” For many years, she taught music to the church’s youngsters. Now, she leads music for the first service, sings in two of the church’s choirs, and serves as secretary of the Presbyterian Women’s Association.
Outside of the church, both Ruthanne and Gordon have spent countless hours as volunteers for health and wellness organizations. A registered nurse, Ruthanne is a member of the Madison Health Auxiliary, a volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps, and a long-time supporter of the county’s Jobs and Family Services Department, currently serving on the planning committee. She and Gordon also volunteered at the former Free Health Clinic in London.
Gordon has served as a certified chaplain for Madison Health and Madison Elms. He was a member of the committee that designed Hospice House and, for many years, he served on the hospital’s investigative review board. He also taught sex education at London High School.
Additionally, the couple’s service to community includes volunteering at HELP House, the Welcome Table, and Loving Kindness Kitchen. Ruthanne can be found at London Elementary during the school year, reading to kindergarteners. She also is a member of the Coover Society and Married Ladies Thimble Club. Together, Ruthanne and Gordon have performed in many community plays over the years.
When they’re not immersed in church and community activities, the Johnsons enjoy traveling, exercising, gardening, eating out, and going to the movies. Above all, they treasure spending time with family. They have three children—Cindy (Rob) Newman, Mark (Oanh) Johnson, and Julie (Paul) Oswalt—and five grandchildren—Nick, Drew and Zach Newman; and Leila and Kyla Oswalt.
When asked why they’ve made London their home for so long, Gordon said, “I always said I would stay as long as I felt there was a challenge and ways to help. We love the people and the town.”
Ruthanne added, “Our family is here, and we love our congregation.”
Look for Ruthanne and Gordon in the London Strawberry Festival parade, set for 5 p.m. June 25 in downtown London.