LICK CREEK — Julia Johnson never has been more surprised. Johnson, who is the executive director of the Boone County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, knew Gov. Joe Manchin III was visiting her facility to honor someone. She didn’t know it was her, however. Manchin presented Johnson, whose nickname is Judy, with a Distinguished West Virginian award one week ago today during a ceremony in the picnic shelter behind the Lick Creek facility. Dozens of friends and relatives gathered to honor Johnson, who took control at Black Diamond Arbors in 1995. Also in attendance were Ron Stollings, who is a Madison physician and Boone County senator; Sue Ann Zickefoose, who is the Boone County circuit clerk; Mickey Brown, who is the Boone County Commission president; Rev. Terry Holley, who is the Madison Baptist Church pastor; and Bill Cook, who is the Danville city manager. Manchin started his speech by praising the people “who go above the call of duty.” He then referred to this quotation from Helen Keller, the world- famous blind and deaf educator: Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved. “It means you have to do something,” Manchin told the crowd. “There are doers among us. “When you have a person who takes a job and has a passion to do it better than it has ever been done before and doesn’t worry about their starting and quitting time and doesn’t worry about their paycheck but continues to give of themselves, then we want to stop and say thank you and be able to give that person special recognition. “It’s ordinary people doing extraordinary things everyday. There’s nothing special about any of us. There’s only the special things that we do to make life better for others. When you have someone who has done that all of their lives, it’s who they are. It’s their fabric. It’s not something they do because of their job. It’s something they live with every minute of the day.” Manchin then turned toward Johnson, who had no idea what was coming. “It is my pleasure to come here today to say thank you, Judy,” he said. “This is your day.” The look on her face - one of absolute surprise - was priceless (“I’m overwhelmed,” she said later). Her friends and relatives, many of whom were in on the secret, cackled in delight. “As governor of this state, the highest honor I can bestow upon a citizen of this state is the Distinguished West Virginian award,” Manchin said, continuing the presentation. “It is my honor to be able to present the Distinguished West Virginian award to Julia ‘Judy’ Johnson for outstanding achievement in meritorious service. “The state of West Virginia hereby recognizes your exceptional accomplishments and confers its nomination in your name.” The talkative and amiable Johnson replaced Manchin at the podium and addressed the crowd. “I came here to honor Ron Stollings today,” she said with a laugh. “But I appreciate this. I have been here 24 years, and I would like to hang out a little longer. I have enjoyed every day of it, and I love everybody here.” This is Johnson’s 25th year with the agency. “Judy works hard everyday,” Zickefoose said. “She has a position, but she’s on the job. She works well with the staff. She gives them free reign to do her job. “She’s caring. She helps people who really need a home get in here. She loves everybody. Her motherly touch is what makes her so successful.” Black Diamond Arbors public housing manager Kathy Workman, whom Johnson calls her right-hand-woman, agreed. “Judy is just down to earth,” Workman said. “She loves everyone. She has that mother’s instinct. She has a good relationship with everyone, from the staff to the residents.” Black Diamond Arbors has won “cleanest” and “safest” awards at state and national conventions. It also has received recognition for its affordability. “All of the residents call this a nice place to call a home,” Zickefoose said. Attribute that to Johnson. “She is able to meet all of the criteria for federal funding and she is able to bring that money in here, which allows her to have upkeep for things such carpeting and cabinets,” Zickefoose said. When she was hired in 1982, Johnson was the authority’s only employee. She received applications, conducted inspections and typed rent checks, among other day-to-day activities. When Black Diamond Arbors opened two years later, Johnson became its manager. She maintained that position until she was promoted in 1995. Interestingly enough, Johnson didn’t enter the work force until she had been a wife and mother of six sons for 37 years. However, the unexpected death of her husband forced her to find a job because her youngest son was entering college that year. Stollings said he spent enough time at Johnson’s house to be considered her “seventh son.” He credits her for helping him become the man he is today. “Whoever Judy had an impact on turned out pretty good,” Stollings said. “The proof’s in the pudding.” Johnson is a board member for Boone County Community Action, Multi- CAP, United Way and South Eastern Regional Commission for Housing. She also is a lifetime member of the Parent-Teacher Association. She has been a member of Madison Baptist Church for 50 years. Johnson will turn 80 in October, but retirement isn’t in her foreseeable future. “She’s a 5-foot ball of fire,” Workman said. “She’s still going strong. She fights for all of the right causes and people.” Contact Managing Editor Jacob Messer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 369-1165.