When George Johnson was elected to the Oregon State Elks Association Hall of Fame on April 27, he became one of only two Hood River Elks Lodge No. 1507 members to ever receive the prestigious award — the other being John Buckley, who was elected to the hall of fame last year.
“We are the only two from our lodge that have received the award,” said Johnson. “This year, there were three people in the state who were honored, and since the inception of the award, there are now 90 award winners in the entire state.
“I really appreciate the award that I received, but I don’t plan to stop volunteering anytime soon,” he said.
Johnson is a longtime member and leader of the Hood River Elks Lodge and has also served at the state level. He joined the organization 56 years ago, initiated into Lodge No. 1507 in January 1963. He was sponsored by his father, George E. (Ned) Johnson.
“I became involved because my parents and grandparents were always doing different things in the community and I always liked helping others, so it’s kind of became something that I just enjoy doing,” he said. “I especially like doing projects that involve young people. Volunteering gives me a lot of satisfaction because you’re helping others, and I think that is a big part of my DNA.”
He began actively volunteering for the lodge’s various committees and activities after becoming an officer in the mid-1970s. While his service is too lengthy to list in a single article, he’s held multiple offices both locally and at the state level, and has served on a number of local committees for many years, including putting together Christmas baskets (30 years), working on the Scholarship Committee (11 years), the Student of the Month Committee (20 years) and helping with the annual wrestling tournament at Hood River Valley High School (23 years). He was Elk of the Year in 1990 and Officer of the Year in both 2011-2012 and 2013-2014.
And that’s his favorite part — helping people, especially youth. Take the Student of the Month committee, for example: It began after he and then Exalted Ruler (1997-1998) Dr. Robert Wymore discussed ways to become more involved in the community.
“(We discussed) the fact that we were not as involved in the community as we might be, so we tried to come up with a way to be more involved,” Johnson said. “What we finally came up with was to recognize high school seniors for their volunteer work in the community. We had a monthly award through the school year, and then a year-end banquet to recognize all of the students and give out monetary awards.”
Johnson went to Hood River Valley High School to get help putting the program together and “fortunately found Jennifer Schlosser, a counselor at the school,” he said, who helped him create the program that has now been in place for 22 years; Mary Ann Hay (retired teacher) and Nan Noteboom (teacher) have since taken over the program.
“Over the years, we have recognized almost 400 students and given away over $130,000 to some very deserving students,” Johnson said.
The program is primarily funded by a yearly golf tournament — this year scheduled for July 21 at Indian Creek Golf Course. Meadow Outdoor billboard owners provide the billboard on the Heights for the month of July at no cost to honor that year’s scholarship winners.
Another program he’s involved with is Camp Meadowood, a camp for kids ages 6-16 with speech and hearing issues, supported by the Oregon State Elks Association since 1973.
“A few years ago, I realized that we had not sent a kid to camp for a number of years and we needed to start doing it again,” Johnson said. “This is one of the big Elks major state projects and it is a great camp that I wish we could send more kids to — it costs $1,350 per child to go to camp and we raise the money to send them from donations by the Tuesday night poker players group.”
(That Tuesday night poker group? Also started by Johnson.)
Two years ago, the local lodge sent two kids to Camp Meadowood, and last year, five.
“They get a week at camp with one-on-one therapy from qualified clinicians in speech pathology and are with other kids that have the same issue,” he said. “… I have been a member of the board for five years now and really enjoy the program.”
Johnson has also been a part of the annual wrestling tournament at HRVHS that raises money for scholarships for senior wrestlers for the past 23 years.
“Over the years, we have given back to the school approximately $25,000,” he said. “This is all done by Elks members who donated their time and energy to a good project.”
While he’s honored to have been recognized at this year’s Elks Hall of Fame banquet for his service, that’s not why he has taken on so many volunteer projects.
“I certainly didn’t and don’t do the work to get the recognition, but it was nice to be recognized,” he said.
According to his nomination packet, “George is an avid but very average golfer, enjoys fishing and traveling.” He’s been married to his wife, Linda, for 45 years and has two sons, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Johnson is a lifetime member of St. Mary’s, where he serves as lector and on the parish finance committee. He’s also coached Babe Ruth baseball, served as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) and is a member of the Elks National Foundation. He retired after 41 years as a Budweiser wholesaler.