SENTEL Board of Directors Member and Retired U.S. Army General Johnnie Wilson Visits His Namesake Middle School in Lorain
LORAIN – Striving for excellence means General Johnnie Wilson visits students annually at a Lorain middle school that bears his name.
During a power lunch on June 5 in the library at General Johnnie Wilson Middle School, Wilson and his wife of 50 years, Helen, challenged about 30 honor students to be the masters of their trades.
“It doesn’t matter what occupation you want to be in,” Wilson said, “…you want to be the best of the best.”
Extra effort in school, diligence in studies and hard work begin to pay back right away, Wilson said.
“When you move forward, they will say, ‘…those are students from General Johnnie Wilson Middle School,’ ” Wilson said.
Wilson encouraged students to stay in touch with their families, adding he and his wife travel to states across the country to visit their seven grandchildren.
“They may say, ‘Wow. Why are they always picking about the grades?’” Wilson said. “Because it’s important. One of our granddaughters says, ‘No Pops. Don’t have any homework. Don’t want any homework.’ ”
Even if students earn great grades, they can do better, Wilson said. He praised the group for 99 percent attendance during the Ohio Achievement Assessments. He encouraged them to act with a view of life ahead.
“Stay out of trouble,” Wilson said, “that will follow you.”
During the 38 years Wilson served in the United States Army, his family moved 29 times throughout the world.
The rank of a general requires academic credentials and carries heavy responsibility, Wilson said.
“When you go off to conflict, that’s a tough decision,” Wilson said, “…because people are going to get hurt. Every time someone got hurt, it’s like that was my own son or daughter. Mrs. Wilson also has tremendous responsibilities, because we have families involved. Mrs. Wilson sat around the table with the generals to tell them about the needs of the families.”
Even though Wilson walked through many tough experiences, he would never trade a day of being a general, he said. Growing up as the second of 12 children in the family prepared him for military service.
“I worked two and sometimes three jobs to help my parents,” Wilson said. “I used to carry the Lorain Journal newspaper. I worked at the Elyria Country Club. I would hitchhike there with friends and carry the bags.”
He helped family members clean a theater after shows, he said. Wanting to attend The Ohio State University, but having no money for college, Wilson saw a poster about serving in the military.
Since he was 17 at the time, he convinced his reluctant mother to sign the papers for him to become a soldier.
“In your life you always come to the fork in the road,” Wilson said. “You have to be prepared. Make your decision. Do the best you can. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you’re extremely comfortable with that, and you know you have done your best, you have to declare success.”
Be persistent in caring for people, Wilson said.
“If you can’t work with people, then you can’t lead,” Wilson said. “People will follow you if they know you care for them.”
Students responded to Wilson’s message and presence.
“It was great,” said Marius Hernandez, an eighth grader. “I saw I have to strive for greatness just to be like him.”
Destie Fred, also an eighth grader, said meeting Wilson for the first time felt good.
“I didn’t know he had such a good life experience,” Fred said. “He’s been to a lot of places and that was cool, and I would like to be like him. It will give me ideas. He inspires me.”
Michael Scott, principal of General Johnnie Wilson Middle School, said Wilson calls him often on the telephone to ask about the students, their attendance, and test scores.
“We’re grateful he takes the time to come back each year and speak to us,” Scott said. “He’s a great teacher.”