Friday, January 20, 2017

Kent F. Johnson

When I moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, in August of 1970 I searched every day for a job, any job, and after about ten days was hired by the Everitt Companies to work at their manufacturing facility, Union Manufacturing and Supply Company, a manufacturer of modular homes and component homes, as well as a lumber yard for contractors. I had no experience in the lumber industry, and really no training on how to handle phone messages either, but Louie Priestcorn, the man who interviewed me for the job, told me he decided to hire me because he already had one employee named Pam and she, too, was left-handed, so he thought it would be fun to have two left-handed Pams. You just never know what will get your foot in the door.

One of the very first friends I made there was Kent Johnson, the company purchasing agent. My job was to answer the phone and I did a little paperwork too, mostly for Kent, whose desk was near mine. Kent's wife, Bernadine, soon became the day care provider for my son, Patrick. In fact, it was Kent and Bernadine's youngest son, Ricky, who potty trained Patrick by taking him along to the bathroom every time he needed to go. They were only about a year apart in age.

Kent and I talked to one another every day across our desks about our customers, our families, and how we liked to spend our free time. We soon became confidants and friends. Kent grew up in Fort Collins and was a very social guy. Every day about ten o'clock in the morning he left the plant and met up with his old high school buddies downtown for coffee. He left me "in charge." They were a tight-knit group who were friends for life. One of them, Don Weinland, became my own lawyer. Another, Bob Cushatt, became my insurance agent. Kent treated me like family and drew me in to his circle of friends. He had a fun sense of humor and kept me laughing much of the time. Unfortunately, sometimes when I start laughing I cannot stop, a kind of hysteria overcomes's a family trait. That's not good when answering incoming business calls with a comedian sitting nearby.

My soon-to-be-husband, Bob Russell, worked at Union Mfg. also, but in another building. He and Kent were friends and when Bob and I started dating Kent was all for it, telling me what a fun guy Bob was. They had travelled back to Kansas together for some company-sponsored training and had a blast, partied hardy. Every Monday at work Kent would ask me what we did over the weekend for Bob was introducing me to his friends and taking me dancing and dining every Friday night and sometimes Saturday too.As a married man with three little boys Kent's partying days had dwindled.

I worked for Union Manufacturing for almost fifteen years, working my way up from receptionist to outside sales representative, becoming the first female outside lumber sales rep in Northern Colorado, thanks to the company owner, Bob Everitt, and the manager of Union Mfg., Bill Lewis.  Kent's job changed too and we didn't see as much of one another ever again but we remained friends. Within the ever-expanding perimeter of the city of Fort Collins is an smaller community of oldtimers, people who were here before Old Main burned. People who owned businesses in town when the south end of town was Prospect Avenue. Thanks to Kent Johnson, I got a glimpse of that society and understand the shared experiences that bind them even today.

Those who know Kent know that Bernadine was the love of his life and her poor health and death six years ago was devastating to him. He never recovered from that loss. I am thankful for the friendship of this funny guy who made me feel that Fort Collins is my home forever more. The memories come flooding back as I write this and they are all good memories. RIP, Kent.