HANFORD — The Hanford Chamber of Commerce announced its 2017 Citizens and Business of the Year Awards, with Mike and Mary Johnston being named the Man and Woman of the Year. The couple has a long history of volunteerism and has spent countless hours trying to make Hanford a better place.
“I don’t fish, I don’t hunt and I don’t golf,” said Mike Johnston. “I volunteer.”
Mike Johnston, 70, said he moved from his small hometown in Mississippi to Hanford in 1978 to take an industrial engineering manager position with Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company — which later became Pirelli Tire Plant. After retiring from Pirelli in 1990, he said he became an insurance agent with Prudential and has been a financial adviser ever since.
Mike Johnston’s love for volunteering started in 1980, when he became a board member for the Special Olympics. He hasn’t stopped since. Over the years he has held positions or been a member of the Breakfast Kiwanis, Kings County Grand Jury, Chamber of Commerce, Kings County Secret Witness, Mended Hearts, Hanford Visitor Agency, Hanford Senior Citizens, served on the Parking and Traffic Commission and the City of Hanford Planning Commission; just to name a few.
“I got hooked on volunteering and helping other organizations because I enjoy helping people,” Mike Johnston said, adding working with other volunteers to help the community is a rewarding experience.
Mary Johnston, 70, was born and raised in Hanford and attended St. Rose McCarthy, Hanford High, College of the Sequoias and West Hills College. She retired as the regional director of the American Cancer Society in 1993. She is currently the owner of MJ Bookkeeping and Payroll Service.
Mary Johnston’s volunteer history began when she was just 9 years old with a 4-H project where she sewed pillows for nursing homes. She continued to volunteer throughout her teenage years by being a scorekeeper for basketball and baseball games. She has held positions or been a member of the Parent Teacher Association, United Cerebral Palsy, Miss Kings County Pageant, City of Hanford Tree Commission, Hanford Chamber of Commerce, Soroptimist, Relay for Life, Kings County Grand Jury, College of the Sequoias Foundation, LaCasa Garden Club, and many more national, state and local task forces.
“It’s been a privilege to be able to volunteer in this great community,” Mary Johnston said. “Volunteering, for us, has always been a team effort; working side-by-side with Hanford’s best citizens.”
From children to adults, the Johnston’s have run the gamut on what or for whom they volunteer. Mary Johnston said they volunteer for at least 20 events every year. Both have volunteered together for the longest amount of time with the Hanford Sunset Rotary Club. Through the Rotary Club, the Johnstons have helped youth locally and internationally with scholarships or other projects.
Mike Johnston said there are many good organizations in the community, and he thinks more volunteers are always needed, whether it be for just a few hours or even just certain events. The number of hours Mike or Mary volunteer on a given week varies, but numbers don’t matter to them.
“Every hour that we help somebody or help an organization is worthwhile,” Mike Johnston said, with Mary adding they volunteer because there is a need, not to get recognition. She said they'd actually prefer to stay in the background, out of the limelight.
Each organization the couple has volunteered for — together or separately — has been important to them because they all help the community in some way. Mike Johnston said the key for volunteers is to know when it’s time to leave a volunteer organization. He said once someone feels like they’ve accomplished what they needed to accomplish, then it’s time to move on and let others come in.
“I don’t feel like you need to be a permanent volunteer for any one given organization,” Mike Johnston said. “You need to let others come in and share the same type of rewarding experience that you’ve shared.”
Mary Johnston said she’s heard all the excuses from people as to why they don’t volunteer, mainly being too busy or having no time. She said people just need to find the time, because helping is worth it. She said she would like to see teenagers continue to volunteer as they get older and make volunteering a lifetime habit.
Chamber of Commerce Board President/CEO Mike Bertaina said he has known the Johnstons for many years, and said they have put forth hundreds of hours every year volunteering together.
“Everything they do is because they love Hanford,” Bertaina said.
The couple has been married for 35 years, have three children and six grandchildren. When not volunteering, they spend time with their family. They said being named Man and Woman of the Year is a humbling experience, and they thank the Chamber of Commerce for the honor and recognition of being in such good company with past recipients.
“Without volunteers, it would be a much different society,” Mike Johnston said, adding he encourages anyone to become a volunteer in the community. The Johnstons said they will continue to volunteer as long as they can.
“It’s just normal and natural for us,” Mary Johnston said about volunteering. “When we’re asked to help, we help.”
Also to be recognized by the Chamber at the 2017 Citizens and Business of the Year Awards are Mr. Appliance as Business of the Year, Kings United Way as Nonprofit of the Year and Jack Schwartz with the Lifetime Achievement Award.