Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Johnson Family

Verdie Mae Johnson is standing in front of a Howard Johnson's sign in the 1960s. Verdie, the daughter of Nathan Johnson and Alma Hood, was probably wondering if perhaps there was some family connection with Mr. Howard Johnson.

The Howard Johnson motel chain was started in the 1950s by Howard Deerling Johnson who had found success in his native Massachusetts with his "28 flavors" of ice cream in the 1920s and later with a chain of family restaurants in the 1930s. By 1954, Howard Johnson's company had 400 restaurants in 32 states, mostly franchise operations. Building on this success, the company opened its first "motor lodge" in Savannah, Georgia. The distinctive sign that Verdie Johnson West is standing in front of became a familiar site for many Southern families during their motoring vacations. It was a special treat in the 1960s to stay at a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge, or it's competitor, Holiday Inn. I'm sure many Itawambians remember trips to Memphis or to the beach in the 1960s that included a stay in one of these motels.

Verdie was 98 years old when she died earlier this year, and at the time of her death, she was the oldest member of East Fulton Baptist Church. Verdie married late in life, to Alfred West, who preceded her in death. Her sister, Pearl Johnson Dulaney, was my husband's grandmother, and they were two of ten children, the other Johnson siblings being: Claude, Troy, Euple, Telsie, Hollis, Louise, Mazietta and James.

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