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An aid to the aging

As Stevens County's Coordinator on Aging, Judy Nord Johnson spends most of her working days at the Morris Senior Center she helped get built. Nord Johnson will retire this month after almost 24 years on the job.

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

In 23 years, Judy Nord Johnson has literally grown into her job.

As Stevens County's Coordinator on Aging, Nord Johnson was charged with helping people she can identify with. She just smiles when asked her age - "I'll just say I've been on Medicare for a few years," she says with a laugh - and it's clear her career suits her.

"Working with seniors," she said, "I had a hard time deciding when to retire because I enjoy working with them so much."

Nord Johnson spoke at the Morris Senior Center as behind her a group of retired men played a mid-afternoon game of bridge and a table of women visited in the corner. Nord Johnson will be joining their ranks Dec. 31, just four months shy of her 24th year as Coordinator on Aging.

The public is welcome to attend a retirement party for Nord Johnson on Wednesday, Dec. 17, from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., at the Senior Center.

Nord Johnson has a special affinity for the place. She helped write the grant that funded the building of the Senior Center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year. The Coordinator on Aging is a county Social Services program, and also is under the auspices of the nine-county West Central Area Agency on Aging. But rather than being stationed in a county office building, Nord Johnson has set up shop at the Senior Center. It's afforded her a comfortable place to help seniors with a wide range of issues. Most recently, it's been counseling them about Medicare Part D and prescription drug programs.

"It's a nice center," she said. "It's part of the community and there are a lot of things going on here - it's not just the seniors. There's not anything else that fits like this. It's a casual atmosphere, and it's nice to sit here and talk to people about their situation."

Nord Johnson was born on a farm in Swift County, and her family left their farm during the Depression years and settled in Milan. She attended school in Milan and graduated in 1953.

After a couple of years at a Minneapolis Christian school, Nord Johnson married in 1957 and lived in Chicago while her husband attended the University of Chicago. His first job was a teaching position at the brand new University of Minnesota, Morris in 1960.

"I've been here ever since," she said. "It was so much fun in those first years. You knew all the students and we'd party together, usually at a faculty house. Everyone would get together and bring their canoes down to the Pomme de Terre River and we'd have picnics."

Nord Johnson worked for Swift County Social Services, and she returned home when that job ended. She spent a few years working at home, but by then her children, Vern, 50, and Heather, 46, were out of high school and she applied for the Stevens County job.

In the first years, the program was set up in the back of the old firehall, where the Senior Center now sits. Then, Nord Johnson worked out of the courthouse until the Senior Center was built.

Over the years, Nord Johnson has attended countless training sessions, workshops and meetings to hone her skills as an advocate and information source for seniors.

"I try to answer their questions, and if I don't know the answers I have a big resource behind me," she said. "You try to put it in simple terms and find out what they need. Everyone has a different situation and everyone has to have their own plan."

Nord Johnson married Edgar Johnson in 2005, and her retirement plans are open-ended. She'd like to travel and keep up her exercise program at the Regional Fitness Center. Beyond that, Nord Johnson said she'll play it by ear.

"Time will fill in, no doubt," she said.

But it's unlikely she'll be a stranger to the Senior Center regulars and staff. She envisions volunteering for certain events, like Heritage Days. And even without anything on her agenda, it's a given that Nord Johnson will be stopping in from time to time to chat and see how the person who succeeds her is getting along.

"All that knowledge that you collect over 20 years, it really makes it easier," she said. "I've really enjoyed it."