She remembers roller-skating on cobblestone streets, where gas lamps were being lit by hand as evening approached.
As a young woman, she worked for Marshall Fields Department Store in Chicago, but her dream was the California journey that she, her husband and young daughter Judy eventually made in their automobile, cross-country to Los Angeles in the early 1940s.
“I moved to California because it was too cold in Chicago,” Johnson said. “It was so beautiful with beautiful farms, hills and not very many homes. We had friends who wrote us, telling us how nice California was. It was an icy winter when I fell on the stairs from the ice, and when my husband came home from work I told him, ‘Let’s move to California!’ We met some wonderful people along the way. We had so many friends– people like us wanting to get away from the cold weather. We did the right thing at the right time.”
The family relocated to California near the end of World War II. “When we moved here, the war was still going on,” she said. “One day, I went to the grocery store, and, outside, I heard all of these horns and cars driving by. Men in service uniforms were in the streets because so many of the husbands and sons were coming home now. It was a happy time. I was out in the crowd, but just because I went grocery shopping. It got pretty crowded. Everyone got in their cars, those who could afford it then. The streets were packed, the sidewalks were packed, you could hear the horns blowing all over the place. We didn’t have radios yet– it was that long ago.”
The family eventually settled in Bixby Knolls. They were residents there for more than 35 years, which, Johnson said, brought them great joy with many friends and precious neighbors. They then moved to Tanglewood Estates in Cypress.
Johnson and her husband Verne had met at a dance in Chicago at the Trianon Ballroom. They loved to dance to the sound of the Big Bands of that era and continued that tradition, often going to venues featuring Lawrence Welk in Santa Monica and other places in Los Angeles.
The couple also spent a great deal of time in Las Vegas, “in the day” when big stars performed, and good fortune followed them. Verne created Chief Auto Supply, and of the 12 stores the largest was located in Signal Hill– with a large, fiberglass statue of an Indian chief adorning the building, which could be seen for miles. (The chain of stores was sold to the Southland Corporation and is currently known as Auto Zone.) Johnson said the statue is now somewhere in Texas.
Later, Verne picked up where he left off, opening another chain of stores in the Glendale area– not retiring until he was well into his 80s.
While raising her daughters Judy and Melody, Mae Johnson was involved with volunteer work at Long Beach Memorial Hospital, was a former member of the Petroleum Club in Long Beach and was very active in the Long Beach GOP Federation of Republican Women (Young Republicans) where she was on the board of directors as recording secretary for 15 years. She was involved with many fundraisers, modeled clothing for fashion shows and participated as a delegate to Republican events.
An avid golfer with best friends June Wolthausen, Gwen Creel and Erma Wheeler, she was also involved with neighborhood clubs. As a Canasta card enthusiast, she belonged to one card club for 50 years, until moving to Courtyard Care Center in Signal Hill, where she now resides.
Johnson said she loved hosting in her homes, and she wishes she could still be in the kitchen to prepare her “famous” turkey stuffing, spaghetti, meat loaf, Swedish meatballs, Swedish smorgi and appetizers. She said the recipes have been passed on to family and friends– even to a couple of restaurants.
Mae Johnson has outlived her soulmate and husband Verne, her daughter Judith Mae MacGilfrey and many friends. Her grandchildren include: Cynthia Silversides, husband Richard and great-grandson Logan; Kimberly Hardy, husband Chance, great-grandchildren Kailee and Jake; and Steven MacGilfrey, great-grandchildren Shane and Scarlet. Grandsons Zachary and Michael Bello are the children of daughter Melody Johnson.
Courtyard Care will host an open-house 100th birthday party for Johnson on Monday, May 13 from 2pm to 4pm. Her brother Gerry Musgrave from Michigan will be in attendance.
Those who would like to may send birthday wishes to Johnson at: Courtyard Care Center, 1880 Dawson Ave., Signal Hill, CA 90755.
Source: Courtyard Care