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May 2012 Check Presentation

Monday, May 21, 2012

Every once in a while, the world is blessed with the presence of someone who, when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, has the strength, courage and tenacity not only to push aside boulders, but to move mountains.  Such a life makes an impact that affects not only themselves, but one that reverberates throughout the ages and changes lives for infinite generations to come.

Two such lives were U.J. Johnson, Sr. and his wife, Hattie, who made an indelible mark on their community and their world – especially with their strong dedication to the importance of education. They instilled a love of learning in their children, and their mission was encouraging the youth of the community to pursue their education as the key to a successful life, an accomplishment for which they will forever be remembered.

Their son, U.J. Johnson, Jr., and daughter-in-law, Thelma, are carrying on their family’s tradition of a passion for education. As two distinguished educators in Polk County, U.J. and Thelma touched countless lives, with U.J.’s 23 year career at Polk State College as Director of Counseling Services at Polk, as well as Thelma’s distinguished career as a fifth grade teacher at Elbert Elementary. 

And in honor of U.J.’s parents, in 1989 they created the endowed U.J. Johnson, Sr. and Hattie Johnson Memorial Minority Scholarship at Polk State College Foundation that will continue that legacy of learning forevermore. They were generously supported by enthusiastic friends and family.

For many years when segregation, bigotry and discrimination had their poisonous grip on African-American lives, the senior Johnson was a true pioneer. A World War I veteran, Mr. Johnson arrived in Winter Haven in 1914 and became one of the founding members of the American Legion Post 201 of Florence Villa. His wife, Hattie, was also well respected in the community as well as an active volunteer in the Red Cross, at Winter Haven Hospital, and Neighborhood Service Center of Lake Maude.

“My father faced racial discrimination when he was in the United States, but then when he traveled to France during World War I, they treated him very well,” said U.J. “Then sadly, when he returned home, he faced mistreatment all over again.”

But U.J.’s father didn’t let that hold him down. “He learned from every situation he was in, and took advantage of it,” said U.J.

U.J. said his parents believed in expanding their horizons and those of their children in any way possible.

“They encouraged us and made opportunities available to us,” said U.J. “They taught us to do well in school and get an education, but they also believed education was not just in the classroom. They loved to travel, and were people who thought globally. And they taught us to not just be sponges, but to give back – it was instilled in us – it was second nature. It’s just what you did. It is part of the family.”

And the Johnson’s enthusiasm for helping Polk State College students is overflowing, as Thelma expressed.

“It’s a beautiful, wonderful feeling. So many people have benefitted from Polk State. We certainly appreciate the opportunity to help,” she said.

In a check presentation ceremony on May 21, 2012 at the District Board of Trustees meeting on the Winter Haven campus, the Polk State College Foundation gratefully honored U.J. Johnson, Jr. and Thelma Johnson. Carl E. Locke, Jr. was there to present the Johnsons’ generous gift. He expressed heartfelt thanks for their immense generosity in establishing a scholarship in the name of U.J’s parents that has helped, and will continue to help in perpetuity provide the blessing of a higher education to innumerable Polk State College students.

“It is always such a pleasure to see U.J. and Thelma at so many of the College and Foundation events, and we are extremely grateful for their ongoing support of Polk State students.  It is my privilege to present today’s scholarship of the U.J. Johnson, Sr. and Hattie Johnson Memorial Minority Scholarship which is currently an $18,000 endowment.  U.J. and Thelma, on behalf of the Polk State College District Board of Trustees, the Foundation Board of Directors, and the students who ultimately benefit from this scholarship in your parent’s name, please accept my heartfelt gratitude for your generosity,” said Mr. Locke.

Pictured left to right: Dan Dorrell, U.J. Johnson, Jr., Thelma Johnson, Dr. Eileen Holden, Mark Turner and Ernie Pinner.