At a festive ceremony Friday afternoon, members of the Apalachicola community gathered to dedicate the city’s recreation and community service complex in honor of Mayor Van W. Johnson, Sr.
The former Apalachicola High School, given over to the city when the county’s two high schools consolidated six years ago, was turned into a bustling facility for non-profits, after-school groups, and government agencies under Johnson’s administration.
With all five city commissioners, City Attorney Pat Floyd and city staff in attendance, the ceremony got underway with remarks from Mayor Pro Tem Frank Cook, who read a detailed proclamation from the city. Floyd then led the gathering in prayer, and in the Pledge of Allegiance.
After that, it was time for Johnson to receive the accolade of having a building named in his honor, and he responded with extended prepared remarks, thanking family, friends, supporters, and well-wishers for sharing in the special occasion.
“Today is a good day and certainly an unanticipated chapter in the journey of my life - for which first and foremost - I’m grateful to Almighty God. I’m grateful for His never-ending grace, His mercy and provision shown during my administration as mayor of Apalachicola,” he said.
“Secondly, I’m extremely thankful to the people of this great city for their continued support and show of confidence not once, but twice, in electing me to the sometimes difficult and demanding task of leading this city. For it has been said of such, ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.’”
Johnson continued by voicing his appreciation to the volunteers “who make up our boards and committees for their selfless service to this city. The key to our success rests in people like you, who embody the spirit of greatness by saying, “Yes I can, and so can each of you!”
The mayor shared his gratitude to City Administrator Betty Webb and her staff, “who each day stand on the frontline on behalf of this city. I’ve come to truly regard them for their dedication and personal sacrifice in choosing a career path that allow for them to serve the needs of others, for our greatest heroes, are those who forego of themselves for the benefit of others. “
Johnson thanked each of the elected officials by name, for their “kind consideration in bestowing this great honor upon me and my beloved family. I find solace in your excellent leadership, your impeccable integrity and your unwavering commitment toward the prosperity of Apalachicola. Let your service be a constant reminder to all - of the work we have accomplished as a cohesive board for the residents of this great city.”
The mayor recalled his “fond memories of attending school in this very building. However, it never crossed my mind during those years that I spent walking the grounds of this campus and running in the halls of this building, that I would return 36-years later in an official capacity to receive such a high honor. It’s a very humbling experience for which I am truly grateful.
Lastly, he spoke of his wife of 33 years, “who I was chasing while running through these halls, my most avid supporter. Your faith in me and my love for this community is what propels me each day to continue in this work with hopes of creating a better tomorrow for all. I love you much baby. “
And he closed with thanks to his parents, the late Abe and Azalee Johnson, Sr. “ I know that you’re both looking down today from heaven - assured that the life you led before me and your work within this community has not been in vain,” he said.
The memories of Johnson’s parents was invoked minutes later when Franklin’s Promise Coalition Director Joe Taylor stepped forward to present the mayor with a framed note from Johnson’s mother when he was 17. Taylor said the note had been found among records at the high school. Azalee Johnson’s note asked for her son to be excused because he had assisted in taking her husband to the Veterans Administration hospital. During the last years of his life, Abe Johnson, who was blinded by a land mine during his service during World War II, made several trips to the VA, his son said.
Also thanking the mayor for his hard work was Faye Johnson, who directs the Project Impact after-school program which is held at the complex.
Following the ceremony, guests retired into the school for a buffet lunch and slices of a cake baked in the mayor’s honor.