March 17, 1998. The results were in, and Ron Johnson had been elected to the at-large seat of the Longboat Key Town Commission, garnering more than 65% of the vote.
“I’m sure I can make a significant difference on Longboat Key,” Johnson said after the results were tabulated.
Nearly 12 years later, it’s clear that Johnson’s words were true. In the eight years Johnson served on the commission, including two years as mayor, he helped to bring about major changes on the Key. He advocated for the building of the Ringling Causeway Bridge. He helped to bring about the construction of town facilities. He worked to improve relationships between town and county commissioners. All this for a person, who never thought he would be elected for a second term to the Town Commission.
Outside of his contributions to Longboat Key, Johnson has been a volunteer at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium for nearly 15 years and currently serves as chairman of the Mote Marine Foundation. He is a past volunteer for the Longboat Key Center for the Arts, a Division of Ringling College of Art and Design, and co-chaired a St. Jude Gourmet Luncheon with his wife, Jinny.
And, now, Johnson has a new accomplishment to add to his resume: 2009 Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key Citizen of the Year.
The early years
Johnson was born in Akron, Ohio. His father was a manager at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., and his mother was a homemaker. After high school he followed his father to Goodyear, where he spent four years training to become a journeyman dye-maker. Then, at 22, he went back to college, attending Akron University at night.
For most of his career, Johnson was too busy to consider running for office. He worked in computer sales throughout the Akron area and also had five daughters. He went on to work in management and later moved to Tampa, where he lived for six years. After years of visiting his daughters, who lived in the Village on Longboat Key, Johnson and his wife moved to the Village. He became vice president of the Longbeach Village Association. Then, a neighbor approached Johnson about running for the commission in 1998. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to run, so he met individually with each commissioner. Impressed by their dedication, he decided he would run.
His No. 1 supporter was Jinny Johnson, who managed his campaign.
“He’s a natural leader,” she said. “He is able to bring about a consensus and work with people.”
After winning election to the commission, Johnson took on a number of issues. He promoted dredging of Longboat Key’s canals and waterways and worked with Manatee County officials to reduce noise from airboats and jet skis. He supported construction of Town Hall, the public-safety complex and police department, along with the remodeling of the Planning & Zoning Department. He led the way toward the creation of the town’s Web site, longboatkey.org. And his proudest moment as a commissioner came in 2003, when he represented Longboat Key at the opening celebration of the John Ringling Causeway.
“For a long time, I never thought I would see it in my lifetime,” Johnson said.
Johnson left public office in 2006, but he has continued to serve the community, primarily through his role at Mote, where he started out as a volunteer in 1996. He later asked for more responsibilities and became secretary and then president of Mote’s Volunteer Board. Since then, Johnson has served in a variety of committees for Mote and is currently a voting trustee.
According to Mote President Dr. Kumar Mahadevan, Johnson has, on at least two occasions, volunteered to fill positions that are typically paid. Mahadevan said that Johnson also played a key role in Mote’s last fundraising campaign.
“Anytime we need help, we can count on Ron to help us,” Mahadevan said. “The nice thing about Ron is he doesn’t need kudos. He just steps right up and helps.”
Said Mahadevan, a longtime Rotary Club member, of the 2009 Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key Citizen of the Year: “My only gripe about him is he’s not a Rotarian.”
Contact Robin Hartill at [email protected]
IF YOU GO
Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key Citizen of the Year Reception
What: Citizen of the Year Ron Johnson, Kiwanian of the Year Vince DeLisi, Police Officer of the Year Randy Thompson and Firefighter of the Year David Kyle will be honored. Cost is $35. Tickets include hors d’oeuvres and two drinks. A cash bar is available. Reservations are required. Contact Patti Colby at 383-5509.
When: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 22
Where: Longboat Key Center for the Arts, 6860 Longboat Drive S.