Blanding is small. There are not very many of us here. But, somehow there are still a few people we do not know. Many of you already know Ila and Kay Johnson. For those of you who don’t, I am thrilled to introduce you to them.
At each Fourth of July parade a Grand Marshal is chosen. The Grand Marshal opens the parade, they lead out the event. A Grand Marshal is someone a city or organization wants to honor. It’s someone who is exceptional, valuable to the community, and someone we all should know better.
This year, there will be two Grand Marshals leading the Fourth of July parade: Ila Johnson and Kay Johnson.
Ila and Kay have been married for 76 years. They are both 95 and honored – though a little nervous – to be this year’s Grand Marshals.
Born in the early 1920s, Ila and Kay had a very different childhood than many of us. They didn’t have traditional toys, except for a few toy cars that Kay owned and every kid envied. They played games outside: Run, Sheepie Run, and Stink Base.
They whittled their own rubber band guns and bows and arrows. They went to Westwater for the PowWows.
They built bonfires in the streets and roasted corn and potatoes there. They went to Jr. Dances, complete with a hometown orchestra. There they learned how to waltz and were taught proper etiquette.
The northwest end of town was called “Jungle Town” at the time because it was covered in cedar trees. Homes were spread thin and everything was still wild. Ila said she didn’t even know Blanding had a “downtown” until she started school.
While both Ila & Kay were raised in Blanding, Kay’s family spent four years in Cortez. It took them three days in a horse drawn wagon to get there!
At eight years old Kay returned to Blanding. Upon seeing Ila, his little third-grade heart leapt and he stated that she was going to be his girlfriend and he was going to marry her. He said there was too much competition for her affections so he wanted to state his intentions early. He, of course, was later granted that dream.
Ila and Kay have many youthful memories of the Fourth of July. Among those memories is the poem entitled, Flander’s Fields, which was written during WWI in memory of the lost soldiers and inspired the use of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.
Ila memorized the poem and recited it in a Fourth of July program. She still has the poem memorized today. Leading up to the Fourth, she used to sell paper poppies as well.
In ninth grade they watched the old high school burn down. They didn’t have a way to put out the fire so they all sat and watched it burn. They attended school in the south chapel and elementary school for the next few years.
Throughout high school Kay played the trumpet quite proficiently and joined a local band that played at dances in Blanding, Monticello, Dove Creek, Mancos, and Moab.
Ila was a twirler for the marching band, but she spent most of her senior year in St. George helping her grandmother.
Kay claims it was Ila’s parents’ way of keeping her away from him. The two graduated together in 1941 and were married in the Manti Temple on November 7 of that year.
Exactly one month later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Kay and his brothers were drafted. Ila’s brothers and brothers-in-law were drafted. Kay joined the Army Air Corps. He trained in Denver and then was transferred into the infantry and moved to Texas.
From there he was sent to Fort Ord in Monterrey, CA, where he was given orders to invade Japan with amphibious tanks.
That assault was similar to the Normandy landings on D-Day and Kay was sure the outcome would not be much better. But the morning he was scheduled to ship out, word came that Japan had surrendered.
Kay says he knew his life was spared and he was able to return home.
Ila and Kay had five children: Sheldon Johnson, Dantzelle Einerson, Romona Lyman, Liz Adams, and Stacey Webb.
They also have 20 grandchildren, and 49 great-grandchildren. They remember and know each and every one of them personally.
Their family’s favorite memories of the Fourth of July start with family dinners that almost always turn into water fights, even indoors. They remember homemade rootbeer, watermelon, and laying directly under the fireworks at the football field.
One of the favorite family Fourth of July memories was entering a family float into the parade and instead of the Flinstones, they were the Johnstones. They dressed up in costumes, had props, and everything. They even won a prize.
Ila and Kay both enjoy dancing and music, Kay loves Lawrence Welk. They both like to garden and Kay still planted a garden last year. Each year they create a new Christmas village complete with homemade houses and accessories for their grandkids and great grandkids.
Kay loves to tinker and claims he can fix almost anything. He also loves driving and when questioned if he should be driving at his age, he said, “I’m the best damn driver in San Juan County!” He loves old cars and remembers who owned the best ones.
Ila loves sports, especially when those sports are played by her grandkids. She even pitched for softball for a while. She is a Jazz fan but, also writes poetry, makes the best rolls, quilts, and plays the accordion.
When Kay was 40, he went back to school to get a teaching degree. He gave up his previous jobs hauling livestock and ore and driving loaders at the uranium mines to be a teacher.
He taught for 20 years while Ila was the lunchroom manager. The Johnsons also owned a car repair shop and a cafe in their lifetime.
They served a few LDS missions together including one to the Navajo Indian Reservation. They also served in the Mesa, AZ and Monticello Temples. Kay became a sealer in Monticello and have the privilege of marrying 16 of his grandchildren.
The best thing about the Johnsons, Liz Adams said, “is their love for God and family, their unwavering faithfulness and willingness to help, and their ability to face a trial and challenge with a sense of humor.”
Ila and Kay say they are honored to be this year’s grand marshals, even if they are a little nervous. Kay’s health has recently declined but he still hopes to make it to the parade and is very honored and excited that the people of Blanding thought of him and the love of his life to open this year’s festivities.