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VISIONS '24 Unsung Hero: Fred Johnson
Lifelong personification of faith and initiative
Fred Johnson
I just do what I can do. That’s all I can do.
Fred Johnson

In his 85 years of life, Frederich Johnson has dedicated himself to a life of faith and initiative.

On any given day, you can ride by Good Hope Baptist Church off of Hwy 162 and see Johnson checking on things. Whether it is something simple as changing the letters on the sign of the church or collecting cans of food for those in need, Johnson prides himself on serving for the church.

Johnson has been a deacon at Good Hope for 57 years – the second longest standing deacon currently at the church. 

But much like Newton County, the landscape has been completely changed from year one to year 57.

“What’s stayed the same?… 57 years… Well nothing stayed the same. Everything changed, all the time,” Johnson said. “We try to stay with the same protocol as service goes and stuff like that, but I guess that would be the only thing.”

Despite world-related changes, Johnson has long been a man of initiative.

He moved to Newton County when he was 5 years old, where he has stayed ever since. Johnson married his wife Artie and had three children – all of which are college graduates.

Johnson graduated from R.L. Cousins school in 1958, where he was a part of the second-ever graduating class. From there, Johnson enlisted in the Army where he served in Vietnam. 

Following that, he worked at General Motors for seven years before going into masonry contracting. He continued to take jobs until five years ago.

Johnson’s background in masonry would eventually lead him to take an interest in cleaning and restoring old cemeteries. 

According to Johnson, it all started around 12-14 years ago after a phone call from a friend.

“There was a cemetery down at Gray’s Chapel… the hub across from the Green Valley Farm back out in the woods. A friend of mine – of course he had called me – and they had been working on that cemetery, you know cleaning it up and they asked me if I would come down and help haul the wood off and everything,” Johnson said. “So I did that and after that I found out that’s what we were doing, I said ‘Well heck, this is something we can do.’”

Since then, Johnson and his group of volunteers have dedicated Jan. 15 of each year – the day of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday – to clean up cemeteries in need across Newton County.

Johnson estimated that he and his team have cleaned up around 25-30 cemeteries over the last 10.5 years, something that he hopes is for the betterment of the community. 

“There are over 300 cemeteries neglected in Newton County and I just kind of halfway took it on my own to try and oversee this,” Johnson said. “I know I can’t do them all, I just do what I feel like we can do.”

Johnson hopes that the tradition will continue long after he is gone, and that he aspires to clean at least one more cemetery before the year ends.

Outside of his commitment to service, Johnson is a member of a number of different community organizations. He is a gold card member of Friendship Lodge #20 for the last 35 years. He is also a member of the American Legion Post 32, having also been a former commander of the now defunct Post 295. 

Additionally, he is a member of the R.L. Cousins Alumni Association. He is a part of the group that is looking to get the school renovated and usable again for the community.  

Overall, Johnson said that this one of the most rewarding projects he had been a part of and that he hopes to see it come to fruition in his lifetime.

Johnson also spends his time attending government meetings. His motivation for doing so is to keep the community informed on important issues.

“I try to make those meetings. It’s something to keep the community informed on what’s going on,” Johnson said. “When something comes up I try to let the people in the community know.

“I just do what I can do. That’s all I can do.”

When reflecting back on his life, Johnson said that “life’s been good.” He hopes that the impact he has made in the community will inspire others to take on a life of faith and initiative, too.

“I guess just remember me as… when I see something that needs to be done,” Johnson said, “I go out and do it.”