2016-07-10 / Insight

Johnson always ready to lend a hand in Dryden

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com


When Darlene Johnson walked into the Dryden village office a few years ago, the village’s Memorial Park had a handful of shrubs. With the help of other volunteers, she transformed it into one of the prettiest spots in town. 
Photos by Phil Foley When Darlene Johnson walked into the Dryden village office a few years ago, the village’s Memorial Park had a handful of shrubs. With the help of other volunteers, she transformed it into one of the prettiest spots in town. Photos by Phil Foley DRYDEN — Raised in Newberry in the Upper Peninsula, Darlene Johnson moved to Dryden from Waterford in 1975.

They were building Holy Redeemer Lutheran Church on Dryden Road west of the village and she offered to help out. The feisty 73-year-old has been volunteering ever since.

On any given day you’ll find her puttering around the meditation garden at Holy Redeemer, pulling weeds at the village’s Memorial Park, helping out across the street at Linked Hearts or working on her latest project — getting a statue honoring hometown hero, Gen. George O. Squier, at the village park.

Come September, she’ll have lived in Dryden 45 years. Johnson’s husband, Neil, passed away 16 years ago, and her daughter, Debbie, moved to the Sarasota area recently. “I’ve got to keep busy,” she said.


Darlene Johnson, Dryden’s volunteer dynamo, helps keep the village’s Memorial Park looking its best, one pulled weed at a time. Darlene Johnson, Dryden’s volunteer dynamo, helps keep the village’s Memorial Park looking its best, one pulled weed at a time. “She is always volunteering and helping with stuff,” said Dryden Township Deputy Treasurer Gloria Smith. “She’s taken on the Memorial Park and it looks the way it does all thanks to her.”

Smith noted Johnson is active in the Dryden Historical Society. Last year Johnson began work on a drive to have a life-sized statue of Squier cast and put in the Memorial Park.

The son of a prominent Dryden farm family, Squier had a colorful career that spanned the Spanish American War, the Philippine Insurrection and World War I. He drew up the first military specifications for an airplane and was to radio what Steve Jobs was to personal computing.

The general died of pneumonia in 1934 at the age of 70 and outside a bronze bust in the Smithsonian and a county park in Dryden, he’s largely been forgotten. Johnson’s recruited Dryden Township Supervisor Tina Papineau; Spencer Kent, a member of the Dryden Veterans Club; and local historians Duane and Jan Chiswell to help raise the $50,000 needed to have a bronze statue of the general created and installed.

“We’ll get it done,” she said confidently.

“She’s a thoughtful, caring person,” said Sandi Muller, her niece. “She’ll do anything for anybody, anytime.”

Johnson downplays her involvement in things. A volunteer at the Linked Hearts food bank for a decade, she said, “I’m not there every week, I just stop in and stay if they need little help.”

Last year she paid her own way to be a chaperone on one of the one-day Honor Flights to the nation’s capital to see the World War II Memorial. “It was awesome,” she said.

She said 10 years ago after an old couple planted a pair of trees at the west end of Holy Redeemer, Candice Meyer and Mary Robinson began work on transforming it into an expansive meditation garden with nine stone benches, sculptures and fountains. “They work on it all the time,” she said. “I just help when I can.”

Johnson said she started volunteering because she wanted to meet people. She’s on the funeral and evangelical committees at Holy Redeemer and recently joined the Almont Historical Society.

“I’ll never leave Dryden,” she said with a smile, “unless I win Lotto, and then maybe.”

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