Longtime Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community employee Janet Johnson has reached her 40-year milestone working in the Community Relations Office. On Wednesday, November 30, Johnson’s staff held a celebratory reception marking her years of service to the Community. Current and former colleagues came by to reminisce and congratulate Johnson for all her hard work and many accomplishments in developing the Community Relations Department into what it is today.
Johnson started working for the SRPMIC on November 30, 1982, housed with Human Resources. She recalled being transferred to different departments until the office went under Administration and eventually to where she is located now, in Two Waters Building A.
In 1982 the Community received a grant to establish a public relations program. The proposal was developed by the late Earl Pearson and Ivan Makil.
“I had the opportunity to get that program started. I was really fortunate that probably a month later, Janet got hired. We were both really young, inexperienced—neither of us had any real college, and we weren’t trained—but we did the best we could and we learned,” said Makil. “Janet was a very quick learn and she was instrumental at that time, especially because we didn’t have technology—no cell phones, no computers. The one advantage Janet had over me was that she could type. I didn’t know how to type, and everything was done on a typewriter in those days.”
The Community Relations Office was established because in the early 1980s there had been a murder in the Community, explained Makil. Due to that unfortunate event, the Community had been getting a lot of bad press from the surrounding communities. All of these issues got dumped on Johnson and Makil. It was a very trying and strenuous time, but they made it through.
“It was at a time when the Community needed to create better relationships with the surrounding communities,” said Makil. “And that was really important to the Community and to the Council, so that was our job.”
Johnson recalled how she, Ivan Makil and Mary Andrews started the Community newspaper Au-Authm Action News (today it’s the O’odham Action News) and handled other Community Relations duties. Today, the department has nearly 20 positions, with staffers handling the newspaper, multimedia, social media, Community events, and communications and marketing.
Martha Hunter and Pam Hait began working with Johnson more than 30 years ago on strategies for different propositions, proposals and initiatives in the Community.
“We had the pleasure of working with Janet on so many things, but when Janet got us, she got us sort of by default…,” said Hait at the start of the reception. “The idea was that we were supposed to help her expand her reach from the Community Relations Department, but in fact, over 30 years I think she taught us a lot more than we ever got to teach her.”
Other issues arose at the creation of the Community Relations Department, including the development of the Loop 101 freeway and Community policing issues. Johnson was right there as the lead, explained Makil.
“[There were] so many [Community] issues that were coming on at that time, and to understand how someone as young as she was could not only endure, but commit and continue for another 40 years, is just beyond comprehension,” said Makil.
“I’ve always been honored to work with Janet. There’s this sweetness about Janet when you first start talking to her, but then when it comes down to business, all of a sudden there’s this commanding voice that comes across, very confident and sometimes aggressive. It’s all in the name of getting the job done. What kind of person does that? It’s a person who has a foundation of values that are important not only to a family, but to that larger family of people, the Community.”
“The reason I stayed so long is that the Community Relations Office offered me an opportunity where I didn’t have to stay in an office behind a desk. I was handed a 35-millimeter camera and told go out and take some pictures of the Community and of different things that were happening,” said Johnson.
That led her to taking classes at Scottsdale Community College and later on graduating with her master’s degree from Grand Canyon University.
Johnson reflected on what she has learned throughout the years and her experiences helping to lobby for different Community propositions and initiatives, which gave her the opportunity to travel and much more.
“I feel content. I’ve given to my Community, and I can feel happy about that,” said Johnson, who then broke the news that she is going to begin her transition to retirement in 2023.
On behalf of the SRPMIC, Community Assistant Manager Blessing McAnlis-Vasquez presented Johnson with a painting by Community artists Dwayne Manuel and Thomas “Breeze” Marcus to commemorate her 40 years of service.