Johnsons to celebrate 70th wedding anniversary

Monday, June 9, 2003
Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Johnson

Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Johnson, long time area residents, will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary on June 9. The Johnsons moved to Monette Manor from Leachville in January. They will be honored with a reception at 2 p.m. on June 9 at Monette Manor. All of their friends and family are invited to come by.

The story of their lives together would make a great book or movie as they have worked together for 70 years coming through good times and hard times.

The young couple met in the 1920s. Della Dortch was playing the piano for the silent movies that drew large crowds at the theater in Leachville. Virgil Johnson also worked at the theater sweeping the floors and rewinding the reels after the movies were over.

Mr. Johnson said he liked to hear her play the piano and they were casual friends.

As time went by, they ended up living on the same street in Leachville. The young Virgil bought a motorcycle and enjoying giving the girls in town a ride on the back of his two-wheel vehicle.

Mrs. Johnson said she thought he was a big "show-off" in those days. She finally decided to go for a ride on his motorcycle and smiles as she said it was love at "first ride."

After a time of courtship when they were in their early 20s, they decided to get married. Mr. Johnson borrowed $2 from a friend, picked her up on the motorcycle and they rode to Cardwell. They were married by the justice of the peace there.

"Our family and friends really made fun of us riding around on that motorcycle. They even called us Bonnie and Clyde," Mrs. Johnson said. "We loved it. He had a side car but I was afraid to ride in that because I was afraid it would come undone. I would just get on the back of the motorcycle. One time we were going to visit family and the roads were bad and the ruts were deep. We got the motorcycle stuck. When Virgil got it started again and tried to take off, I fell off the back right in the mud and water."

Mr. Johnson still gets a sparkle in his eyes when he talks about his motorcycles. He had an Indian Chief and a Harley Davidson.

Mrs. Johnson plays the piano by ear and her talent has been enjoyed by many through the years. She played the piano for years at the Leachville Senior Citizen's site for group singing. Today she still plays the piano at Monette Manor.

Mr. Johnson worked many jobs to make a living. They lived through the depression years when jobs were hard to find. It was a time when men would work at anything to make a dollar.

Like many people from the Buffalo Island area, they would travel to Michigan to pick fruit. They have some great memories of those years, too.

"It was like a camping trip. We got to see new places, meet new people, and we were making a little money. It was hard work but that didn't bother us," Mrs. Johnson said.

During the 1940's, Mr. Johnson opened his own wood and coal yard in Leachville and eventually added an ice house to his business. He kept many families in the area warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

They always worked together as a team.

Mr. Johnson had a T-model truck. He added extra wheels so he could haul an extra ton when he made his trips to Illinois to pick up the coal.

Mrs. Johnson remembers when the truck would break down, her husband would work on it until they got back on the road.

"Sometimes he would get aggravated and kick the tires, but he always managed to get it going," she said.

The couple has two children, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Their children are Butch Johnson and Bonnie Yuhas. Johnson and his wife, Freddie, live in Paragould. Mrs. Yuhas and her husband, John, live in Elizabethton, Tenn. Their grandchildren are Greg Johnson of Paragould, John Yuhas of Newport, Tenn., Mark Cunningham of Mooresville, N.C., and Michael Cunningham of California.

When the Johnsons first child was born, he was working at the compress in Leachville. One of his coworkers called him "Pappy" and that name has stayed with him since. Most everyone knows him as "Pappy" Johnson.

The Johnson's daughter-in-law, Freddie, complimented her in-laws as being an inspiration to all of the family.

"When I married their son I was very young and did not know how to cook. I remember ruining dinner and throwing it out and even a stray dog turned it down. My mother-in-law was very patient and taught me how to cook and wash clothes. The one thing she couldn't teach me was to play the piano, I had no talent in that area, but she tried," she said.

Mr. Johnson suffered a heart attack in 1964 and became disabled. This was a difficult time in their lives. Mrs. Johnson had been a housewife and worked with her husband.

As always, the Johnsons took life as it came and Mrs. Johnson went out in search of work. She worked at Rodman's Clinic in Leachville for several years as a nurse's aide. She later worked at the Leachville water office as a part-time employee.

Mr. Johnson, now 94, and Mrs. Johnson, 91, have many memories to look back on. They said the wedding vows with sincerity and love for each other and stayed together through the good times and bad times.

"As long as we are together, we can work out anything," Mrs. Johnson said. "Even in our darkest times, we never considered going our separate ways."

Seventy years is a long time, but the Johnsons said it passed fast.

"We have been blessed," Mrs. Johnson said.

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