The last 100 years have brought tremendous changes in our world and Eyvonne Johnson of Exeter has had a front row seat to see them all.
Johnson, was born Eyvonne Jensen on December 9, 1921 on a farm just north of Exeter. She lived there and started school out at a country school before her family moved to town when she was five years old.
She remembers there was a difference of opinion with the school superintendent when she moved as she didn’t meet the age cut off to start school. She was five but there was no kindergarten and with a December birthday the superintendent thought she wasn’t old enough to start.
She thinks she went anyway and did first grade twice to make the superintendent happy and graduated from Exeter High School in 1939.
After graduation she started working as an assistant to the dentist in Exeter. She even learned to do a filling if the dentist was unavailable. After a few years she took a job at a department store, Miller and Paine, in Lincoln.
This was a great adventure. In 1941 she shared a house with the Votipka sisters from Exeter and went to her job in the jewelry department at the department store. She recalled the quirks of the downtown landmark, “the money went in a tube and was vacuumed upstairs and they sent the change down.”
After a while she got a “better job” at the Nebraska Farmer where she sold health insurance and sent out the billing notices.
In 1942 her life changed drastically. She took a train to Los Angeles and she and Arden Johnson traveled to Las Vegas with friends where they were married.
She had known Arden in high school but they never dated. He was two years older and had grown up by Cordova. He headed to the university after high school but he had asked her on a date so she thought of him when it was time to find a date to the junior senior prom.
“Winds of the past, ring the bells of the future” was the theme for the prom which she still recalls, “I have the invitation which was all handmade. We made everything by hand back then,” Eyvonne explained.
Arden had a job working at a bank in Los Angeles and she didn’t find a job right away but instead volunteered at the draft office in Los Angeles. They had taken a short honeymoon trip to Boulder City to see the Boulder Dam (a.k.a. Hoover Dam) and returned to Arden’s apartment in Los Angeles.
Arden had registered for the draft in Geneva before he left for California. Before he was called up he served as a night watchman patrolling the streets of Los Angeles while Eyvonne kept their blackout curtains closed in their apartment.
Before long, Arden’s number came up in the draft and the couple returned to Exeter so that Arden could be shipped off right back to California for basic training.
Eyvonne stayed in Exeter with her parents while Arden was gone. She got a call from the airbase asking her to come and work there. She went to work there in the payroll department where she did the civilian payroll.
For some reason the government paid all of the civilian employees in cash. She recalls they would figure their hours and then the pay that was due them. The Military Police would go get the cash in York and they had to get the cash ready for payday and use every coin or they would have to goback through the envelopes until each coin was used. The MP’s also accompanied them as the distributed the pay.
Arden didn’t return home right after D-day. He stayed in the Paris, France area he didn’t have enough points (the army awarded points for time served, combat duty, overseas service and parenthood). They didn’t have children so it took him longer to get home.
By the time he returned Eyvonne explained “there were no welcome home celebrations.”
When he returned they had to decide what they were going to do, return to LA and banking or stay in Nebraska. They chose to stay in Nebraska returing to the family farm where they stayed until 1990 when they returned and moved to town.
Although they never did have kids, they had “lots of nieces and nephews come and stay with us. The farm was a wonderful place to come and play. They had a wonderful time,” Eyvonne reminisced.
Coming into a town was a struggle at first, “We didn’t know anything but work I think,” she explained.
She added that Arden always kept busy because he could fix things around the house. He did in 2002 just before their 60th anniversary.
They traveled all over the United States together and purchased a winter home in Texas where they stayed six months out of the year.
In Texas they had a lot of company, and even had a club of people from Nebraska that met once a month.
She has attended the UCC Congregational church her whole life and is an avid Husker fan as season ticket holders for many many years. She shared photos of the last game she attended when she was 95 and enjoyed a game from a skybox (where Larry the Cable guy was a guest, too).
Her hobbies are evident in her home which displays her beautiful needlepoint, painting and decoupage. She enjoys watching birds from her kitchen and has lots of flowers and herb to attend.
She enjoys reminiscing about the old days She recalled going to a movie when she was young where the news reel showed what the future would be like with technology. She couldn’t believe it then but is living in that world now. “Everything is advanced. When I was a kid we didn’t have this or that. The world has really changed. It seemed like such a better life than what we have now…neighbors would rake their leaves to the side of the road and burn their leaves. The neighborhood together had a good time.”
On the same token she noted the good changes, “We had no electricity on the farm and had the whole house wired and it was a great thing.”
She also mentioned the improvements in phones and farms. “We wouldn’t farm the way they farm now. It takes a lot of money to be a farmer now. We see how they do it now. We wasted a lot of good moisture by farming the way we farmed.”
She didn’t have any real secrets to a long life, “I think the good Lord has a lot to do with that. I know one thing, I worked hard. There was no easy hand out of money.”
She gets a little frustrated as her memory isn’t as “sharp” as it used to be and there is “nobody around here my age to help me remember.”
Neighbors and friends decorated the inside and the outside of her home in Exeter with balloons and signs to mark the occasion of her 100th birthday.