Kuna lost a great man this month.
And when I say “great man,” I don’t just mean, like, “a great guy.”
Don Johnson was truly a great man. He died March 2, just two days shy of his 82nd birthday.
Don grew up on the family dairy farm in Kuna, graduated from Kuna High School, went off to University of Idaho to earn a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and life science, then came back home to Kuna to start his own farm, next to his parents.
He married the love of his life, Mary. They were married for 58 years and raised their family in Kuna.
When you talk about service to the Kuna community, I’m not sure many, if any, people could equal Don’s service.
Don was involved with the Kuna Grange for 50 years and served as Grangemaster and as State Grangemaster.
He was a fire commissioner for 14 years and helped find funds to build the current fire station.
He was one of the first members of the Kuna library board and hired the much-beloved first library director Anne Hankins, who sent out her own ripples of influence into the world. He also helped to get the bond passed to build the library building, which is a center of the Kuna community.
He served on the Kuna school board from 1979-82. Some say that Don was also instrumental in helping to get the bond passed to build the current Kuna High School.
I had a firsthand look at how Don operated, and I have no doubt how he wielded his influence. Don and Mary were among the first people, if not the very first people, to welcome me and Nicola when we first moved to Kuna in 2006 and took over the Kuna Melba News. They greeted us with open arms. They probably didn’t know it at the time, but they made us feel like, “Wow, this is a great place to be. It’s going to be all right here.”
And, yes, Don introduced himself by saying he was not the actor Don Johnson; the actor was “the other” Don Johnson. The Kuna Don Johnson is the one who wears socks.
Don and I would see each other often, at the Farmers Market, at the Grange, at a pancake breakfast, in my office at the newspaper, at a City Council meeting or just around town. I always looked forward to seeing Don. We would chitchat and exchange pleasantries. Then there would be “the pause.” It was not an “OK, I’ll see you later,” kind of pause. I came to understand just what that pause was. I knew that whatever was to come next, I’d better pay attention; it was going to be something important to Don.
It was sometimes, “Have you heard about this bill in the Legislature?” or it would be “We have the FFA public speaking contest coming up,” or “Have you ever heard of ‘Words for Thirds?’”
Words for Thirds was the Dictionary Project, in which the Grange raised money to buy a dictionary for every single third-grader in Kuna. Nicola and I donated to the cause every year, and one of my favorite assignments all year was going around with Don and Mary and the other Grangers handing out dictionaries to the kids. Pure joy.
Don was the kind of man who wielded his influence quietly but extremely efficiently and for absolutely all the right reasons.
His life has affected so much of what Kuna is today, from the school district to the library to the fire district and the Grange to 4-H and FFA and their church. Little things and large things that rippled out into the world.
If you think about your community as your own little slice of the world, then it makes sense to conclude that if you change your community, you change the world.
Don Johnson changed the world. He was a truly great man.