By Caitlin Easter
For my final blog of Women’s History Month, I would like to talk about a woman who not only made an incredible impact in my life, but also works every day to show every young girl that has the privilege to meet her what it means to be a strong woman. Mrs. Kathryn Johnson majored in Secondary Education with a focus in English and a minor in Speech and Theater at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and went on to get her Masters in School Counseling from the University of Central Missouri. Mrs. Johnson taught and counseled at a few different schools before finally landing in the town where I would finally have the chance to meet her, Warsaw. I’ve known her for quite a while as I grew up in the same class with one of her sons, but it wasn’t until the 8th grade that I was able to meet Mrs. Johnson in the capacity that had the strongest influence on my life. Serving as not only the Guidance Counselor of John Boise Middle School, but also as the Speech and Debate coach of Warsaw High School, she influenced my life in many ways. She served as trained shoulder to cry on and an advocate for my mental health when I pushed myself too far with obligations. From being the person who shared her hidden chocolate with me on bad days to being the person who introduced me to Speech and Debate and fielded my first mental breakdown in college, Mrs. Johnson did—and continues to do—it all.
In her role as my speech coach, she allowed me to realize my potential and led me to State Speech for three of my four years in high school. And one of those years, she went way past what is expected of her, more than she even usually does, and took on a huge time commitment to allow our group event, Reader’s Theater, to write our own piece. Reader’s Theater is a collaborative event by a team that uses more of an interpretive style of acting as opposed to normative styles of acting; with Reader’s, you have a lot more freedom to interpretation and you are allowed to write your own performance piece instead of using an existing one. As the wife of a farmer, the mother to two boys, a Guidance Counselor, an active community member, and the coach of a speech and debate program, there isn’t much time left over for anything else, but that didn’t stop her from doing so much more. She took it upon herself to lead a group of eight girls to find our vision and write our piece, and then she organized, edited, and directed it alone. Our piece was entitled “Fight Like a Girl” and embodied the struggles and triumphs of being a woman as written and told by eight students and one amazing teacher, as well as a few already existing poetry pieces that we mixed in. We covered everything from periods, to what it is to be a woman, to our own personal stories of sexual assault and abuse. She led us in our triumphs such as making State Speech and our shortcomings such as missing qualifying for finals at state by a single place. She allowed us to tell the truths of being a woman even though some people in my rather small community might not approve. She allowed us to experience being a woman through the eyes of girls with different viewpoints, cultures, ages, and experiences. She didn’t ask us to perform a pretty piece to appease everyone who was going to watch it, she asked us to perform our piece in a way that was true to ourselves and what we wanted to say. She didn’t do the job for the recognition or the pay, she did it for us and would do it for anybody who walked through those school doors.
She is one of the biggest reasons I came to UMKC, but beyond that she is a huge reason that I am the woman I am today. Always going a step further than she is called to, Mrs. Johnson will forever be tied with some of my best memories, as my mentor, my friend, and generally one of the greatest women I will ever know.