For three decades, not only did a Hope woman’s involvement in her community increase, but so did her impact.
“If you needed something done, you said, ‘Barb, let’s do it.’ And we did it,” said retired Flat Rock-Hawcreek Superintendent Glen Keller.
Barb Thayer Johnson received two lengthy standing ovations Monday at a reception honoring her as The Republic’s 35th Woman of the Year at a Donner Center reception. More than 100 people attended to congratulate her.
Since Johnson spent her career as an educator, she has frequently been compared to her father, Tom Thayer (1915-2011), a math teacher. But during Monday’s celebration, Johnson’s sister, Linda Thayer Herron, brought up contributions made by some of the women in their family.
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Sarah Dodd Thayer (1890-1985), Johnson’s grandmother, was named Indiana’s 1958 Mother of the Year by the state chapter of what is now American Mothers Inc.
Mary Scott Thayer (1924-2000), Johnson’s mother, was not only co-owner of the former Hope Department Store, but an active leader in organizations ranging from the Kappa Kappa Sigma sorority to the Hope American Legion.
Johnson herself was presented with a Sagamore of the Wabash in 1992 by former Indiana Gov. Evan Bayh, and named Heritage Days grand marshal in 2011.
“We all learned to be a leader, step up, do the work, and fearlessly charge forward,” another sister, Susan Thayer Fye, said of the women of the family.
Johnson’s effectiveness as a teacher has long been known. She received the 1995 Edna Folger Outstanding Teacher Award from the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and was named Flatrock Hawcreek School Corp Teacher of the Year twice.
“The way to teach children is to be enthusiastic about everything you are doing — and do the best you can every day,” Johnson said.
As a volunteer, Johnson played key roles in the 1992 move, renovation and staffing of the historic one-room Simmons School to Hope, as well as her decades-long tenure as board president of the Yellow Trail Museum through 2015.
Her service to her community also includes being on the Hope Christmas of Yesteryear board, and the committee for the Old Fashioned Independence Day Celebration.
“I could write a book on all the other things Barb has done that you’ll never hear about,” Thayer Fye said.
But in accepting her award, Johnson said she was often drafted into her many leadership roles, rather than volunteering.
“I really don’t deserve this honor,” Johnson said. “It’s the multitude of volunteers and family members that carry out all those projects and activities that I’m getting credit for.”
That humility characterizes the woman that Keller, her long-time boss, fondly remembers, he said.
“Barb doesn’t have a lot of fanfare — but she never quits,” Keller said. “She’s always doing things you never knew were being accomplished. You need her on your team.”
Since her name has long been tied to historical organizations, Johnson got a good laugh when she made a surprising revelation.
Up until the time her own children became involved in the Little Hoosiers student club at Hope Elementary School, “I really wasn’t interested in history,” she said.
But while The Republic’s 2016 Woman of the Year may downplay her own importance, Johnson’s attitude toward her own community is exactly the opposite.
“For years, when asked where they live, I’ve heard both adults and children respond: “Oh, I just live in Hope,” Johnson said. “It’s time to get rid of the ‘just.’ You have to be proud.”
The Republic’s Woman of the Year award was founded in 1982 by the late Jean Prather when she was The Republic’s features editor.
The award’s purpose is to recognize one woman from Bartholomew County for unselfish contributions toward creating a vital community and a high quality of life with an emphasis on long-term activity, hands-on work and diverse involvement.
The winner receives a custom-made necklace, and is awarded $2,000 from The Republic to be given to her designated charity or charities. Barb Johnson, The Republic’s 35th Woman of the Year, chose the Simmons School and Yellow Trail Museum to each receive $1,000.
Residence: Lives in Hope.
Education: Hauser High School – Class of 1966. Degree in elementary education from Ball State University.
Career: Retired Hope Elementary teacher (1972-2003). Continues to volunteer as head schoolmarm of historic one-room Simmons School.
Family: Husband Ed; four adult children, Allison, Amy, Bill and Gary. Sisters Linda Thayer Herron and Susan Thayer Fye.