- Associated Press - Sunday, March 30, 2014

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - Mildred Johnson gives out hugs and calls every child by name as they walk past her usual post at the corner where two main hallways intersect at the South Fant Early Childhood Education Center.

“You can find her here every morning,” said the school’s principal, Anthony Ware. “And she knows each of their names.”

To many of these children, like 4-year-old Mary Kate, she is “Grandma Johnson.” She is the giver of hugs, candy and encouragement.

Johnson has been part of Anderson School District 5 since the late 1950s. She started out as a student and graduated from Westside High School in 1961. She started substitute teaching after she studied at South Carolina State University and married her late husband, Walter Johnson.

She started working in the district in 1971. Since then, she has taught students in study hall, has been a bus driver and has tried to help students who were suspended from their regular classes. She has worked at Lakeside Middle School, what is now Varennes Academy of Communications and Technology and at the South Fant Early Childhood Education Center.

These days, she is still here at the South Fant Street school. But most of that time, she is a volunteer.

Each weekday, she arrives on campus at 7:10 a.m., sometimes making her second to arrive, just behind the custodian.

And she is here until 5:45 p.m.

“I love what I am doing,” Johnson said. “I retired, but I knew there was something more that I could be doing. As long as God can use me, I am here.”

Johnson is an Anderson native but lived some of her childhood in Philadelphia. She came back to Anderson as a teen after she came with her siblings to her grandmother’s home for their usual summer vacation. When she was 15 years old, she asked if she could remain here.

A couple of teachers and a coach were among those who influenced her to work in education, she said. Coach William Roberts was one of them, she said.

She said Coach Roberts was tough, and never let her give up on something. He would simply have her practice something until she mastered it. And Loretta Raspberry, one of her physical education teachers, inspired in her a love of learning and researching.

In Raspberry’s classes, they would practice sports such as badminton and shuffle board. But before they could play a new sport, they had to learn about it, Johnson said.

Both of them pushed her, in different ways, to not just accept mediocrity.

That influenced her when she started teaching at Lakeside Middle School. She was there for 25 years.

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