Her death last week sent me to my personal library files to find some facts and perhaps a few bits of legend as well.
She and I shared one Woodstock connection … neither of us was born or grew up here. She helped me to understand that that should not matter. It was now our home. Her passion for public libraries became my own as well after a few years.
I soon learned that the little storefront library on South Main had only been open for a year when we moved here. Its history reads like a fairy tale of sorts.
The Woodstock Junior Woman’s Club had organized in 1963 and its 13 members had approached Elizabeth for ideas for a project. At her suggestion and with her full support and cooperation, they began to lay the groundwork for a public library.
At that time there was only one public library in Cherokee County. The club’s meeting minutes in September 1963 state, “The library committee will begin to collect books.” Book donations from individuals and groups, added to 2,000 books loaned from the state library, soon began to come in.
Parks Rusk, brother of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, (Cherokee County natives) offered 500 volumes to the project. Books were stored in the depot until arrangements could be made to open the library. The doors were opened on June 8, 1964.
We will soon celebrate the library’s 50th anniversary. Throughout those 50 years, Elizabeth and her husband, Smith L. Johnston Jr., were the faces of the library.
From that first storefront, which they owned and renovated, through two other moves to locations with Johnston connections, to the beautiful structure nestled amongst the 8.22 acres of woodland donated by them for today’s library, their support, encouragement, and guidance have been a blessing to our community.
It was so much more than bricks and mortar, dirt and trees. Elizabeth was the voice of the library as well. Her determination to ensure funding for materials and operation was an inspiration to staff and to other volunteers.
She was not hesitant in approaching the lone county commissioner for increases in funding. She knew when and how to use her special powers of persuasion to convince those who held the purse strings at various sources of the importance of public libraries.
As the only branch from the main library at Canton, Woodstock had its own board of trustees. Elizabeth was the chairman and the guiding force of that board for many years. A few years after Woodstock became a part of the Sequoyah Regional Library three-county system, the Woodstock Board was abolished, and Elizabeth became very active on the county and system boards.
Her involvement and interest often found her at state library conventions, annual trips to the Legislature to lobby, and at any function where the library needed representation. She was a role model, a mentor, a cheerleader.
My favorite photograph of her was shot at the opening of the present facility in May 2005. She is bent over, speaking to a 2-year-old child with that ever-present smile.
The little girl seems ready to speak as she looks up at Elizabeth in wonder. The scene is prophetic. It’s as if Elizabeth is handing over the entity that is the library to the next generation. Her name can be found throughout the library. The Elizabeth D. Johnston Room holds Special Collections.
There are marble plaques and memorial gifts, and her portrait on the wall. These visible signs of her legacy, while well-deserved and necessary, cannot begin to tell the whole story. She has left us with pride and commitment, and with appreciation for her passion, her influence, and her guidance along with others who cared enough to stay the course. She would be so proud as the library celebrates 50 years in June.
The library was just one of her many interests, most of which centered around children. She was instrumental in the organization and operation of SCRA, the South Cherokee Recreation Association, serving as secretary and booster for many years.
She was a devoted member of PTA, and often held an office. She was active in her church as well, and as president of Cherokee County Historical Society found yet another vital avenue of special service in the preservation of the history of the community that she loved.
We are blessed to have known her.
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.