Juanita Johnson, M.A., C.T. is a retired mental-health counselor and school-crisis educator. She is a graduate of Empire State College and holds a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling, Specializing in Life Transitions and Rituals from the Norwich University at Vermont College. Juanita is certified as a grief counselor and death educator by the Association of Death Education and Counselors. She has been featured in numerous keynotes and conferences, was honored with a Silver Apple Award for her highly acclaimed "Inner Views of Grief" video, and served as a national Trainer-of-Trainers for Active Parenting.
Juanita is an avid gardener, reader, and lifelong learner. In these, her retirement years, she leads groups in her own home, teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke University, and beautifies porches, decks, and walkways through her container-gardening business, Containers That Sing.
She lives in beautiful Durham, North Carolina.
She can be contacted by email: email@example.com
by Ursula Nebiker, for the OLLI newsletter
There can be no instructor more enthusiastic and upbeat about her classes than Juanita Johnson. She’s been teaching at OLLI for more than ten years, and her popular courses focus on reflections on our lives, our explorations into our inner self, and the way we deal with the ups and downs of the traumas or significant losses that we confront as we grow older. She lauds the curiosity of her students, and how much she has personally benefited from her interactions with them over her years of teaching.
She grew up in rural northeast Iowa, in a small town with the unusual name of Oelwein that was named after the founder. She recalls her childhood fondly. “I was an only child, but we sometimes had a cousin or two living with us — it was quite delightful.” Her parents also hosted a foreign exchange student from Denmark for a few years, and Juanita has visited her several times. “She told me to come to Denmark in May when it was supposed to be lovely, but she lived right on the North Sea and it was really, really cold.” They still remain friends.
After graduating from high school she enrolled in Stephens College in Columbia, MO, and there she met Earl, who was studying mathematics at the University of Missouri. They married and moved to Ft. Collins for him to begin working on his Ph.D. at Colorado State University. Juanita continued her studies in anthropology, but had to leave in 1967 when Earl was drafted, only a few credits short of obtaining her degree. They rented an apartment in a diverse neighborhood in Alexandria, VA, and while he worked at the Pentagon, she took part in protests against the Vietnam War. “Those were difficult times for the country. We were living there when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were killed in 1968.”
Two years later they moved back to Ft. Collins where Earl finished his Ph.D. and their two children were born. Their son Richard is now a businessman in Eugene, Oregon, and their daughter Jennifer writes young adult fiction. Jennifer and her husband and their 12-year-old son Sam live in Durham.
The young family returned to the East Coast in 1973 and lived in Fredericksburg, VA, for the next five years. Earl taught at Mary Washington College and Juanita continued taking classes. When he was offered a job with a pharmaceutical company in Norwich in upstate New York, they moved for almost the final time and Juanita became heavily involved in working with parents of young children who needed support and a place to come together. She was hired by two different churches who paid her $100 a year to be in charge of adult education.
They lived in Norwich for 32 years. Juanita found it to be a wonderful community, and it was there that she started leading the support groups that have been her focus ever since. She became certified to teach what was called Active Parenting and, to her great delight, she was one of four people chosen to travel all around the country to teach other adult educators how to incorporate this particular curriculum into their community. Not only did the job pay fairly well, but she had a lot of fun.
However, that college degree still eluded her, so one day when her children reached high school, her daughter said to her, “Mom, you really need to finish your education.” She did just that, though it took her another year to complete. As part of her interest in working with parents of young children, Juanita became the Director of the Gathering Place in Norwich, and she was sent to Boston to the Judge Baker Center to learn “how to be useful in schools and communities when they had to confront tremendous loss, be it divorce, death, or some kind of significant trauma.” The director of the center saw potential in her and became her mentor, but suggested that for her to be really effective in her chosen field, she should go back to school and get a Master’s degree.
Juanita wanted to be able to offer good programs for people who were experiencing loss and was really interested in how people design creative and meaningful rituals to get them through difficult times. A branch of Norwich University in Norwich, Vermont, offered Juanita the chance to design her own degree in Rituals and Loss, so after finishing her Master’s there she started her own private practice in loss counseling in Norwich, NY. Until then, she said, “there were not many people doing that kind of work in this small town in upstate New York and there was really no place for people to go.” She began speaking at national conferences and discovered that she loved making her presentations in the form of a story. “When you tell a good story, people are more inclined to remember it than if you just lecture.” She continued her private practice for the next twenty years.
Earl retired from the pharmaceutical company, and they began to look around for an interesting university town to retire to. “We never, ever thought we’d move south. Missouri was far enough south! However, our son-in-law had been in the Physician’s Assistant program at Duke and he and our daughter really liked it here, so twelve years ago we moved here to be near to them and our grandson.”
In what spare time she has, Juanita enjoys getting together with small groups of women who are interested in living their lives with purpose and curiosity, and she’s an avid reader. When she and her husband moved to their North Durham home and inherited a beautiful yard, she developed an interest in gardening and delved into research about which native plants would best thrive in North Carolina’s summer heat. Her garden bloomed, and when people admired it she decided to start up a consulting business designing flower arrangements for all sorts and sizes of porch containers, helped by her grandson Sam.
Next semester Juanita will lead discussions on compatibility and rewarding connections in “Exploring How to Bring the Right Person Into Your Life: A Class for Singles,” and as usual, she expects an enthusiastic class attendance.