- 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.

“When I first started, it seemed like my middle-schoolers were not pushing themselves,” Johnson said. “I wanted to know why. They needed help. I wanted to help them be as smart as they could be.”

That is the goal she started with and she has kept that focus through her career, no matter what age her students are.

One of the walls in a classroom where she helps lead an after-school program at the South Fant school proves that.

It is covered with materials that she makes on her own time to help teach the children in her classroom. She helps preschoolers learn their letters, their colors, their shapes and their numbers.

She saves magazines and newspapers to help them with some of their lessons.

Mrs. Johnson always adds what I call that ‘old-school flavor’ to everything,” the principal said. “She is going to make the students mind. But I don’t know any other person with a heart as big as hers.”

But what makes Mrs. Johnson special, the staff here at South Fant school said, is that she has so much love and joy to share with everyone. She has taught many of the parents who bring their children to South Fant school now.

When people have a question or need advice or a shoulder to lean on, they go to her. If a child is having trouble, Johnson tries to work with the parents to help the whole family, Ware said.

“She is like our resident mother,” Ware said. “When she is not here, all our parents ask, ‘Where’s Mrs. Johnson?’”

Like a grandmother, she has a hug for all of her children - and sometimes a secret stash of candy to hand to the children she calls her “babies.”

“She has a love for people,” Ware said. “You can hear it in her laugh.”


Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com

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