Johnson, a veteran of World War II, celebrated his 104th birthday amongst family and friends Tuesday at Winona Manor in Winona.
“It feels good to be 104,” Johnson said. “It’s great to have everyone here to celebrate my birthday with me.”
A festive affair, Johnson’s celebration was also joined by staff and fellow residents at Winona Manor for treats that included Blue Bell ice cream and birthday cake.
Winona businessman Maurice Ferguson was on hand to celebrate Johnson’s birthday and said he has known him for over 30 years.
“He’s just a fine man,” Ferguson said. “He’s been that way all his life. I first met him over on Campbell Street. He was on a bicycle.”
Many people best remember him in Winona on a bicycle, and Ferguson said that was the way he got his exercise.
“There’s no telling how many bicycles he wore out,” Ferguson said.
In the late 1920s, Johnson was a high school football standout at Lambert, the small town in Quitman County. It was there he said were he helped win a state championship for the tiny Delta town – still one of his fondest memories.
Johnson went on to become a standout player at Northwest Junior College and then Southwest College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis, but his dream was to play for the University of Alabama. Even today, he is loyal to the Alabama Crimson Tide football team. His longtime friend Bob Brockman attested to that at Tuesday’s party.
“He loves Alabama football and the Atlanta Braves in baseball,” Brockman said.
In the early 1930s, Johnson did get the chance to go to the University of Alabama, but as a linemen coach. He would be the line’s coach for then-player Paul “Bear” Bryant, who became eventually became the Tide’s legendary head football coach.
Near the year’s end, Johnson got his chance to play for the Crimson Tide following an injury. He was voted on the team for the final spot. In 1935, Johnson would play in the Rose Bowl, as Alabama beat Stanford 29-13 in Pasadena, California.
“I remember that well, it took us three days to get out there by train,” Johnson said. “I met some really great athletes.”
After college football , Johnson played professionally with the Memphis Tigers, a then-professional team owned by Clarence Sanders, founder of Piggly Wiggly grocery stores.
Johnson was drafted by the U.S. Navy during the height of World War II. During his time in the Navy he would sail the Panama Canal and was once stationed on the same ship as Gen. Douglass McArthur.
After the war, Johnson worked over three decades at Federal Compress and retired.
Johnson has seen so much during his life – good and bad, and he offered a bit of advice on enjoying life to the fullest.
“You just have to live right and take a big lick out of it,” Johnson said.