Barb Johnson leading a tour of schoolchildren at the Yellow Trail Museum in 2018
Barb Johnson leading a tour of schoolchildren at the Yellow Trail Museum in 2018

The town of Hope lost a community visionary leader Tuesday, with the passing of Barb Johnson, an linchpin to many community events and activities and a long-time advocate for the preservation of Hope's heritage and history.

Johnson, 71, died Tuesday morning in hospice care at St. Vincent Hospital about a week after suffering a recent stroke.

Johnson retired as an elementary teacher at Hope Elementary in 2003. She had served in various leadership roles with the Yellow Trail Museum since 1984, including as long-time director and being elected as president of the Yellow Trail board earlier this month. She was instrumental in the restoration and relocation of the Simmons One-Room Schoolhouse, and served as a Simmons School marm.

She received the Sagamore of the Wabash award for her efforts to restore and to preserve the schoolhouse, served as the Hope Heritage Days grand marshal and received the Edna V. Folger Outstanding Teaching Award. In 2015, she was chosen as an outstanding alumni of Hauser High School and was selected as The Republic newspaper's 2016 Woman of the Year. In 2018, she was selected as the Hubert Hawkins Local History Award recipient by the the Indiana Historical Society, which recognizes a historian for distinguished service in local history.

She was also the visionary and driving force behind many large community events including the Old-fashioned Independence Day, Christmas of Yesteryear and Civil War Days.

Erin Anderson had worked with Johnson through the Yellow Trail Museum and reflected on the hole that her passing leaves.

"Barb was a force of nature," Anderson said. "There was so much history knowledge that she had, but also institutional knowledge. The museum has been around for 45 years and she has been a part of it for almost that entire time. So we kind of consider her one of our founding mothers. She had all that experience, all the things that had been tried and worked, and that hadn't. She basically was the hub that kept all the spokes together.

"There is not going to be a single person to fill her shoes. It is going to take an army of people to do that. Whether it is coordinating volunteers, or setting up an exhibit, or just contacting the right person who has some artifact. You name it and she was a part of it."

Anderson said that she was in awe of Johnson's dedication to local education.

"I have never seen anyone so dedicated to any cause," Anderson said. "Whether it was the Simmons Schoolhouse and her work with that, or there at the museum, or when she was a teacher or a little Hoosiers sponsor -- there has always been that dedication to education and to the children of Hope. But also to the general public. Just because she left the classroom, she certainly never stopped teaching.

"And it wasn't just about history. She showed through her work the good way just to be a good human."

Former Hope Elementary and Hauser Principal Warner Michener said he met Johnson when he started here in 1990.

"I found out that Barb Johnson was an icon, before I ever arrived," Michener said. "Because when I was hearing things about Hope Elementary and the town of Hope, invariably Barb's name would come up as being an absolutely great teacher, a living historian so to speak, and a quiet leader. A very hard worker but while not necessarily a spoken leader, but more by demonstrating things that needed to be done and having the initiative to be the one to do them."

"She was the kind of teacher that you wanted a whole building full of people like that."

Michener said that the one-room schoolhouse was reconstructed about two years before he arrived in the community, but it was clear the impact Johnson said.

"She did everything from working on the curriculum for what would be taught at the schoolhouse, to helping maintain the schedule, to being a school marm, recruiting other people to be a school marm or a school master," Michener said. "And with all those things going on, she would also be the one at the end of the day or that night, inside the schoolhouse cleaning it up and dumping the trash."

Michener said it is hard to fully measure the loss to the community.

"But it is not a total loss because of the legacy and impact that she has had on so many students and people in this community," he said. "And those things are going to live on. She is truly someone who left not only an imprint on the community, she left almost a brand on it..."

"This community was extremely blessed to have Barb as a member and as a teacher in the community. But I was also blessed as a school administrator to have someone like that on the faculty."

Michael Dean, CEO of Heritage of Hope, said that he admired her commitment to the community.

"From our first meeting almost 25 years ago when she was my children's elementary school teacher to our Hope Main Street meeting a week ago her dedication and integrity never changed and were qualities that I admired," Dean said.

Lizzie Flora, museum manager for the Yellow Trail Museum, said that Johnson would be greatly missed.

"Very few people show as much love for their community as Barb did," Flora said. "She inspired everyone she worked with to do their best. Her commitment to the preservation of Hope's history and her monumental influence on others will be greatly missed. I didn't understand true community engagement until I met Barb."

Among Johnson's immediate survivors are her husband, Ed; two daughters, Amy Jines and Allison Clay; two sons, Gary and Bill Johnson; and her two sisters, Susan Thayer-Fye and Linda Herron.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete at Norman Funeral Home.