A lifetime of service

Soroco's Bob Johnson dedicates life to helping youngsters attain dreams

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— Bob Johnson was 26 years old when he moved to Oak Creek.

It was his first year out of college and his first year as a teacher, ever.

He was going to stay a year or two, maybe five, and then move on.

That was 1965.

Thirty-seven years later, he stands on his wrap-around deck staring out at his view of the Flat Tops and South Routt County.

Johnson has a natural green thumb.

He plants flowers and trees at the schools and town parks in Oak Creek and gives the same care to his own home.

His one-acre perched above it all is a private sanctuary guarded from the world by trees he planted.

His goal is to have 200 trees.

He is almost there.

The trees part like a curtain at one end of his lawn giving a straight view down the valley.

As he looks out toward Yampa he knows that over the decades a good number of the people living there have passed through his classroom.

Residents have turned in geography homework to Mr. Johnson, run laps at basketball practice for coach Johnson while others have learned to drive from the same man.

He was the driver's education teacher for 27 years.

"I've been driven into a couple of ditches," he said. "Pretty deep into some."

In his career with the Soroco School District, he coached football, track and boys and girls basketball.

"I've gotten to the point where I am coaching the grandkids of my first students," Johnson said.

He started coaching more than 10 years before there were girls sports in South Routt.

Girls didn't take the courts until 1977.

Before that year, if girls were interested in sports, they could join the Pep Club or try out for the cheerleading squad.

Now, looking back, his most memorable seasons happened with the girls basketball team.

Like 1996, the year that Jessica Logan led the team to the state tournament and the team finished third.

Or two years later, in 1998, when the team took fourth at the state tournament with Erin and Jennifer Redmond leading the way.

"These girls were competitive," Johnson said. "Jessica played some good ball for me and later for UNC."

Johnson said she now coaches and teaches in Minnesota.

The reasons players like Logan and the Redmond twins stand out in his mind are the qualities they possess beyond their ability to play.

"Those girls were good-natural leaders," he said. "I've had a lot of good ballplayers over the years, but not all of them were leaders."

Technically, Johnson has been retired for five years.

Which is not to say he isn't at Soroco High School almost every day.

He still coaches boys basketball and takes care of the school grounds.

He is also a substitute bus driver a couple of times a week.

"I spend a lot of time on the coaching," he said. "Maybe too much time."

He watches basketball films and thinks about different strategies.

"I have to wonder how I ever had the time to teach and coach and raise three children," he said.

Johnson hasn't met any of this year's new teachers, but he has one piece of advice for them.

"The most important thing is to get involved in the community," he said. "It makes it a lot easier to teach. If you just go to school and then go home, it will be harder for you."

What Soroco High School ever did without Bob Johnson is anyone's guess.

The school district has also decided to commemorate his impact by naming the new gymnasium after him.

The decision was made at a school board meeting last year. Johnson didn't find out until Gerry Bruggink, editor of the South Routt NOW newspaper, called him to get information for a story.

"They're just paying me back for all I put into the school," Johnson said.

At 2 p.m. Saturday, the gym will be officially dedicated and Johnson's first job turned lifetime accomplishment will last as long as the new building, and be remembered even longer.

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