Monday, June 25, 2012

A Citizen of the Year

Johnnie Daniel, Washington Parish, Louisiana,
Citizen of the Year

Years ago, I wrote Their Adventurous Will: Profiles of Memorable Louisiana Women, a book that highlighted the contributions women have made to the culture and society of Louisiana, and a friend told me that I should do a companion piece about memorable Louisiana men. I haven’t followed up on that idea, but in the ensuing years since the remark was made, I've showcased some memorable men in my blogs. Last week, I learned that Johnnie Daniel, my second cousin, who lives in Franklinton, Louisiana, was named “West Washington Parish Citizen of the Year,” and I think that he’s a man who deserves kudos for achieving this honor.
Twenty-nine years ago, Johnnie, an outstanding athlete who excelled in his favorite sport, baseball, slid into first base head first and broke two vertebrae, an accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down. At a rehab center in Jackson, Mississippi, Johnnie was told that his parents, Sara and John L., would never be able to take him home and do the things that were needed for his health and stability. However, his parents wouldn’t accept that verdict. Despite their own health reverses at times, they’ve managed his health care with astonishing results and encouraged him to become a contributing citizen in his home town.
Johnnie has the Greenlaw penchant to write (our maternal ancestors), and for many years he has written articles ranging from human interest stories to reports of Town Council meetings for The Era Leader, his hometown newspaper. He also managed the former family-owned business, Johnnie’s Sport Shop, and pursued his early interest in baseball by sponsoring a youth league baseball team, a softball team, a boys’ all-star team and a girls’ all-star team. Johnnie became a regular at the baseball park where he cheered and supported the teams that he sponsored instead of lamenting about his own inability to play. From the photograph of Johnnie, readers can see that he’s an avid LSU Tiger fan and often attends ballgames in a specially-equipped van driven by his father. Once, when we were exchanging editorial comments about a story, Johnnie had to stop our email exchange in midstream to watch an LSU football game – the writing of his story was important, but his interest in athletics is always paramount.
The natural consequence of Johnnie’s work in the field of recreation was his interest in a 115-acre recreation complex that will provide a facility for young people and adults in Washington Parish, Louisiana. Johnnie became chairman of the Recreation District 1 board, and as Citizen of the Year, he was honored for helping to develop public awareness of a recreational complex that has the possibility of being a major economical boost to the town, as well as a major improvement to the athletic facilities for youth and adults, according to Dennie Fowler, Vice-Chairman of Recreation District l. The first phase of construction of the complex should begin at year’s end or in early 2013. Johnnie has written a series of articles lobbying for this development, has spoken in behalf of the facility, and also uses the Internet to promote the project, typing with a pencil strapped to his wrist.
During the years since Johnnie’s accident, I’ve visited him in the home of his parents and observed firsthand their tenacity as a family determined to move past an unfortunate sports accident. Johnnie’s brother Mike has also been a member of the supporting family team that encourages Johnnie’s vision to help young people – there’re no whiners here, just a tightly-knit unit of forward-looking people!
In addition to Johnnie’s civic activities, he builds websites and spends time with his niece Katelyn and nephew Jon Michael.
Regarding his Citizen of the Year honor, Johnnie says “I was shocked…and I’m very humbled to receive it.” I might add that Johnnie often says he’s blessed, and his wide smile underscores his words!
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