That’s what’s great about Great Bend – you have your seasons. The maple leaves turn beautiful colors, and you have a little bit of snow in the winter, and then spring comes and everything starts popping.Naomi Johnson
This time of year on Thursday afternoons, Naomi Johnson can usually be found near the southeast corner of the courthouse square selling baked goods at the Great Bend Summer Street Stroll Farmers Market.
Last Thursday, shoppers checked out her assortment of artisan breads – filled with sunflower seeds, cheese, pepperoni or other goodies – and her cinnamon rolls and fruit pies, as well as a blackberry cobbler baked earlier that morning. Meanwhile, Johnson stepped to the table next to hers to weigh some fresh tomatoes that customers were waiting to purchase from her neighboring vendor.
“We just help each other,” Johnson said.
Naomi and her husband Edmond Johnson came to Great Bend more than 20 years ago, when he was hired to teach social science courses at Barton Community College. She worked as a Registered Nurse at Larned State Hospital. Now both retired, the Johnsons live west of Great Bend with a German Shepherd named Captain.
They do not have children or grandchildren, Johnson said, so their fur babies are family. They were empty nesters for awhile after losing their last dog, who suffered from hip dysplasia. Captain joined the family about two months ago.
“We saw his picture in the paper,” she said, referring to the Golden Belt Humane Society’s Great Bend Tribune ad showing animals available for adoption. “We went right down there and we just fell in love.”
Captain came to the humane society after he was found wandering around Stone Lake with no collar.
“I’m glad that they left him for us. He’s everything to us,” she said. “It was meant to be.”
Johnson said she doesn’t belong to any civic groups or service organizations in particular. “I’m not ‘quote’ a member of anything.” But her friends at the farmers market testified that she often lends a helping hand, often in the form of a casserole, cookies or bread.
“She’s the most giving person I’ve ever known,” said Alice Brozek, standing beside Johnson at another booth.
She spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Johnson won more than two dozen ribbons at this year’s Barton County Fair for various types of breads, cookies and muffins. She also won ribbons in floriculture for her coreopsis (tickseed) and cosmos flowers. Her box full of ribbons was given to a 10-year-old boy who turned them in at checkout time for the ribbon buy-back. The fair board pays $1 for each rosette ribbon in new condition.
“It’s a nice thing they do,” Johnson said. “What are you going to do with them at home?”. The ribbon buy-back is a good way to recycle, and she liked being able to reward the boy “for being a good kid and helping his mom at the fair.”
It’s good to encourage young people, Johnson said.
“I try to reward them with encouraging words or deeds. We need to pay more attention to children so our next generation grows up well.”
Coming to Kansas
Naomi is a Minnesota native, while Ed is from Texas. They met in college, although they went their separate ways after graduation. It was quite a few years later when they happened to find each other, she said.
They lived in Texas before coming to Great Bend. If you ask her what she loves about central Kansas, the climate is at the top of her list.
“Great Bend is not as cold as northern Minnesota – it doesn’t get 20 and 30 degrees below zero in the winter, so that’s wonderful. And then, in Texas, it’s so bloody hot for so long, and you don’t have the seasons. That’s what’s great about Great Bend – you have your seasons. The maple leaves turn beautiful colors, and you have a little bit of snow in the winter, and then spring comes and everything starts popping. I don’t appreciate 105 degrees day after day. Really, the climate here is the best, you’re in the middle between Texas and Minnesota.”
As much as they love Great Bend, however, trips to her native Minnesota are special.
“I’m happiest when I am in the woods of northern Minnesota, picking wild blueberries,” she said.
Community Connections is a regular feature of the Great Bend Tribune, showcasing people who live in the Golden Belt. We welcome readers to submit names of individuals who are active in the community that they would like to see featured in a future story. Send suggestions to email@example.com and explain their “community connections.”