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‘Mother’ Johnson turns 100

President Obama sends her a note

Published: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Joan LeBlanc presents Mattie Mae Johnson with a flower Sunday afternoon as Second Baptist Church in Dixon celebrates Black History Month and "Mother" Johnson's 100th birthday. She has been a member of the church since 1960.
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Keith L. Hayes leads a group of singers in "Center of My Joy" during a Black History month celebration Sunday at Second Baptist Church in Dixon.

DIXON – Those who know Mattie Mae Johnson call her “mother.”

On the same day Second Baptist Church in Dixon gave recognition to Black History Month, the congregation honored its oldest living member and showed not all lessons come from history textbooks.

Johnson turned 100 Sunday with friends and family from Chicago and Indianapolis on hand. Mayor Jim Burke arrived to proclaim Sunday as Johnson’s day.

President Barack Obama even wrote in a letter to Johnson: “You have witnessed great milestones in our nation’s history. Your life represents an important part of American history.”

The Rev. Galon Darby, former pastor of Second Baptist, told the congregation the historical value Johnson holds with one word: “mother.”

“When you go to Mother Johnson’s home, sit and talk to her, she’ll ask you, ‘Have you had anything to eat today?’” Darby said. “’I can make you breakfast.’ That’s how she was.

“When I lost my mother, Mother Johnson and all the mothers of the church rallied around me.”

Johnson sat in the front row mostly silent wearing a white hat, as family and friends reflected on her life. Her nephew, Keith Hayes, read a poem “To Every Season” for her and another nephew, Eric Hayes, gave a guest sermon about “keeping the church real” in the eyes of the Lord.

Johnson stayed humble and shared her memories after the service with hugs and kisses.

The centurion, who moved to Dixon in the late 1940s, was one of nine children born in Montgomery County, Tenn., to Callie Radford Whitlock and Frank Reuben Rives (now Reeves). She joined Second Baptist in 1960.

Her youngest sister, Nadine Hayes, 82, of Indiana, said her sister always believed in hearing the truth.

“She is a lovely lady,” Nadine Hayes said. “You didn’t tell her a lie.”

After the church sang “Center of My Joy,” Keith Hayes looked at Johnson and said: “Thank you for being such a sweet mama.”

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