When one hears of Barb Johnson he or she thinks of Hope, Indiana. And when one discusses Hope it is likely that Barb Johnson will be mentioned at one point or another.

While Barb felt passionately about making sure the historical legacy of Hope lives on for generations to come, Barb herself is a legacy. One of Barb’s greatest passions and projects was to preserve and proudly display the Rural Letter Carriers’ collection. For many years, these artifacts were displayed in a free standing structure in the middle of the Hope Town Square. More recently, this structure was torn down and the adjacent Yellow Trail Museum acquired all the Rural Letter Carriers’ artifacts. Barb Johnson led the efforts to purchase the adjoining building to the Yellow Trail Museum to be used as a permanent display for the collection. The acquisition of this building came briefly before Barb’s passing this past February.

I quickly became acquainted with Barb when I moved to Hope to take a social studies position at Hauser Jr.-Sr High School. Through stories my husband shared about his elementary school years, I felt as though I already knew Mrs. Johnson. Once when discussing Little Hoosiers, “There is the tree where we drilled for sap, “ referring to a tree in Mrs. Johnson’s yard. “When our class visited the one-room schoolhouse Mrs. Johnson chose me ahead of time to pull a girl’s ponytail. Had to wear the dunce cap…“ Mrs. Johnson was a history teacher I aspired to be---and this was before I had ever met or corresponded with her.

Then came the emails and correspondence. Mrs. Johnson encouraged me to involve my students in Hope community events. She also suggested that I become the sponsor of the Hauser Historians—our school’s history club that had been fairly inactive. At first, I delayed and even resisted Barb’s urging for me to get involved. I was new to the town and a young teacher. Surely, she could find someone more knowledgeable or experienced. But, I was willing and showed interest in history and to Barb that was enough.

As the Hauser Historian sponsor I wanted to absorb from Barb as much as possible. I would have preferred she take the reins while I scribbled everything she said and did into a “how-to” notebook. But that was not Barb. She stepped back and let me run the show and call the shots. Barb was present at almost every meeting, empowering me to take on tasks that I would not have tackled otherwise. Even when she had doubts she made each member feel as though he or she was the best fit for the job. This confidence in the students created history lovers that took pride in their town’s heritage.

Many joke that you could not say "No" to Barb. I had found this to be true. Maybe it was her humble, mild personality or her willingness to make bold and daring decisions of which people are privileged to take part. Many said yes because of Barb’s diligence and selflessness, in hope that it would be one less thing that Barb would have to do. However, many of us had learned that as Barb’s load lightened she seemed to fill it with one more idea, one more project, or one more program. Because of this gentle urging I became involved with the Yellow Trail Museum as a board member and held Hauser Historian meetings at the museum so my students could dig into and hold the artifacts of their own families’ history.

A bit of Hope’s history helped me connect with my own. I remember shortly after I moved to Hope, having a conversation with my maternal grandmother, Mary May, “I know exactly where Hope is located. I’ve actually visited there before.”

My grandmother was a 14-year rural route carrier veteran and had visited that humble display of rural carrier artifacts several years prior.

Recently, the Yellow Trail Museum was included in a grant to digitize a portion of their collection. I was fortunate to be ‘hired’ on to help with the scanning efforts of the Rural Letter Carriers’ artifacts. Time was of the essence, so I couldn't read every document I scanned, but would skim pages as the scanner did its work. I was always looking for that little bit of history that may have affected my grandmother in her everyday work. While I never quite found that, I did catch blips of conflict, turmoil, and adjustment in various decades of convention minutes when the rural carriers and their association had to adjust for and make demands during major periods in our history like the Great Depression and WWII.

As a child, my siblings and I experienced all the glamour a rural carrier career had to offer. Copious amounts of smoked sausage, cheese boards, and candies that were given to my grandmother by her residents at Christmas time were reserved a space on the buffet line. My siblings and I never tired of the laughs we received when we would take turns sitting in the left sided-passenger seat of my grandmother’s custom-ordered right-hand-drive Subaru---”look, no hands!” we’d say as we’d pretend to take our hands off the wheel as my grandmother drove down the road. And the impressive production she’d give unwittingly on Saturday mornings when we’d visit her at the substation. We watched in awe as she’d talk and fling mail into the boxes effortlessly.

And now as a Hope resident I understand why my grandmother made the trip to the Surprising Little Town of Hope to visit the humble display in the middle of the Hope Town Square. I further understand Barb Johnson’s ferocity in wanting to preserve the artifacts of the Rural Letter Carriers’ Museum.

Currently, efforts are being made to convert the adjoining building of the Yellow Trail Museum into the permanent display of the Rural Letter Carriers’ collection and the goal is to finish this project by the end of 2020. Barb Johnson started these efforts and it is our job to finish it---for her, for the town of Hope, and for all of the rural mail carriers, like my grandmother, Mary May.

If you would like to learn more about the project or to help in the efforts to make a permanent display of Rural Letter Carriers’ artifacts at the Yellow Trail Museum in Hope, Indiana please do not hesitate to contact Ed Johnson.