Chapter 1: Long and Deep Ohio Ties

In the 1950s, America just took off. Small towns were hubs of activity, a microcosm of the ambitions of booming cities. New manufacturing, fancy clothes, vibrant social life, busy Main Streets, civic betterment, lingering traditions, cherished values — the pulse of local communities everywhere. Ohio, already a crossroads of pioneer America for two centuries and home to eight United States presidents, was accustomed to being part of the action.

Knox County at its heart (officially with Centerburg) was created

Knox National Bank 1800s, painted in 1955 (c) The Artist's Eye, by Janis Johnson

in 1808, five ears after Ohio’s statehood, soon after Johnny Appleseed began planting apple trees in the area and just before the birth of Daniel Decatur Emmett, who composed popular minstrel tunes like Old Dan Tucker and Dixie. In Knox County’s early years, my family began rolling in.

While this chapter is about my family, our Ohio roots (on both sides) back to the early 1800s and Dad’s upbringing in New London, Ohio, it is also a story of families in the World War II generation — those who came before and those who came after….

Listed with Vernon Johnson’s 1936 high school senior class picture were numerous music, drama and athletic credits. He was also class president and “School Printer and Artist.” His description read: “If there’s anything helpful that he can’t do, It’s never been known to me or to you.” I’ve always thought of Dad as a “jack of all trades,” a 20th century Renaissance man.

Vernon Johnson studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art, then known as the Cleveland School of Art. In his second year, he was awarded a “Working Scholarship” of $150; by working for the school, he received $75 each semester and cut his tuition in half. He majored in art education and also attended the School of Education at Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve), earning a Bachelor of Science degree in 1940. He was elected his art school’s senior class president.

Vernon Johnson studied under some of the nation’s better known artists, including Henry G. Keller, sometimes referred to as “the Dean of Contemporary American Painters,” according to the New London Record,6 as well as William J. Eastman (painting), Walter Sinz (sculpture) and Otto F. Page (education). He kept up his music and taught watercolor and oil painting in evening classes, and after graduation, returned to New London to organize the school system’s first art course and art club. “The class has studied life drawings, house planning, fashion drawing, advertising, a study of anatomy as well as the appreciation of the fine arts in general and a scan of art history,” according to the 1941 New London High School yearbook.

But on August 29, 1941, as World War II was approaching, Vernon Johnson entered the Army Air Force….

Read this chapter for one family’s story in this World War II generation — my father a pilot in China/Burma/India and my mother a Red Cross volunteer in India — and also for genealogy followers, you might find a connection to your own family’s history. We were pervasive in the Midwest!

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