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Flower Memorial Library recognizes longtime volunteer

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The Friends of the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library and the library board of trustees recognized the volunteer work of Susan M. Johnson, who was honored as the first recipient of the Distinguished Volunteer Service Award in a ceremony Wednesday at the library.

Jayn M. Graves, president of the Friends of the Library, said Mrs. Johnson, wife of Johnson Newspapers Chairman of the Board John B. Johnson Jr., has helped raise more than $700,000 for the library over the past 35 years.

Though she said she was grateful for the honor, Mrs. Johnson said it always felt somewhat selfish to help the library. As a volunteer, she said, she had the first pick of books for the annual sale, and she had fun spending time with people who also loved books. “I’m overwhelmed to be recognized for doing something I love,” she said.

She said the Friends of the Library began as a kitchen table group and eventually became a certified 501(c) nonprofit.

Mrs. Johnson was honored with the engraving of her name on a plaque to be hung in the library, a certificate and a book featuring photos of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

Mrs. Johnson began volunteering at the library in 1974 as a board of trustees member. She served as board president from 1983 through 1995 and has always helped to raise money for the library through the annual book sale, the library’s biggest fundraiser.

Library board President Stephen W. Gebo said proceeds from the annual sale originally funded miscellaneous projects, but now the money goes directly to purchasing fiction books. Library Director Barbara J. Wheeler said the library’s entire fiction section was paid for through donations from the annual sale.

Ms. Wheeler said volunteers like Mrs. Johnson and the Friends are important because the board of trustees, as employees appointed by the City Council, cannot raise money on behalf of the library.

“She’s been instrumental in recruiting people to join the Friends, to support the library and to be patrons of the library, and shes deserves credit for turning the Friends of the Library into the organization it is today,” Mr. Gebo said.

Mrs. Johnson said her relationship with the library started when she was 4 years old and a librarian gave her a copy of Roald Dahl’s “The Gremlins.” She said she had taken the book out of the library so many times that the librarian decided it should be hers.

“I don’t know why I loved it so much; not really a children’s book when you think about it,” Mrs. Johnson said. The book, about small gremlins wreaking havoc on Nazi fighter planes during World War II, was intriguing to her and was one of the books that fueled her love of reading.

“In retrospect, I would have loved to be a librarian,” Mrs. Johnson said. A high school aptitude test had concluded she should pursue a career as a librarian, but she decided to go into teaching and received her master’s degree in English education.

Mrs. Johnson taught at the former Case Junior High School and later was a substitute teacher in the Watertown City School District.

Through her career and family life, she said, volunteering was always a part of her life.

“There’s a lot of happiness. It’s a large group of people that love books,” Mrs. Johnson said.

Mrs. Johnson said she plans to continue to volunteer at the library and hopes everyone marks their calendars for the last Saturday of October for the next big book sale.

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