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Dr. William A. Johnson

Contributed by: Karen Zach


Perrysville Community Honors Country Doctor after 50 Years in Medical Profession By Dale Foster - about 1956

A family physician was honored Sunday as the Perrysville community turned out 4,000 strong for “Dr. Johnson Day.” More than 700 of 2,500 babies delivered by Dr. W. A. Johnson were on hand to help him celebrate his 50 years in the medical profession. Seated with the doctor on the platform erected for the occasion on the Perrysville School grounds were a host of dignitaries including Indiana Congresswoman Cecil Harden. Master of Ceremonies was Dr. Harlan English of Danville 8th District Council of the American Medical Association. A telegram from President Dwight D. Eisenhower said that White House joins the community in honoring the career of Dr. Johnson and noted the importance of the country doctor in the American way of life. Dr. English also read a message from Vice Present and Mrs. Richard Nixon who paid tribute to the service given by Dr. Johnson and his wife, the former Nell G. Shute, a Perrysville High School teacher at the time of their marriage in 1916. Mrs. Harden saluted the doctor as a skilled surgeon, an esteemed friend, and a true American and said, “his record over 50 years is truly an inspiration to us.”

Welcoming address was by Cortz Jones who noted Dr. Johnson was born near Coal Creek, Indiana and attended the Perrysville School, completing his schoolwork in three years. After 2 years as a schoolteacher in the area, he was urged to complete the study of medicine by the hospital staff at the state reformatory in Jeffersonville where he taught for three years. President of his class at Loyola University, he served his internship in the Columbus Memorial Hospital in Chicago and opened his practice in Perrysville in the office previously occupied by the late Dr. F. E. Saunders. Dr. Johnson’s first patient was Mrs. Mary Fox Burnett. The first baby he attended at birth was Lee Wilson who was presented during the program. Youngest of “Dr. Johnson’s babies” was one born last week to Mr. and Mrs. Paul Coleman.

In the early days of his practice, Dr. Johnson used a horse and buggy, often fording the swollen creeks to reach country patients. He waded many streams not then spanned by bridges. Jones remarked, mentioning his bride-to-be often stood at the window in the school building watching the doctor as he rowed across the swift Wabash. The couple’s only child, Harriet Ellen, was killed near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Jones also revealed the honored guest worked nights in the Perrysville telephone exchange to pay for his high school graduation and operated a steam shovel in the construction of the second track by the C & EI Railroad to finance his medical training. The doctor was master for five years of Unity Lodge 344, F & AM, of which he is still a member. He also belongs to the Zorah Temple of the Shrine in Terre Haute; the Knights of Pythias in Perrysville; Evergreen Lodge IOOF; Society of Indiana Pioneers; Sons of the American Revolution, and is a past patron of Perrysville Chapter 302, Order of Eastern Star. A plaque was presented to Dr. Johnson by Dr. M. C. Topping of Terre Haute, president-elect of the Indiana Medical Society, describing the doctor’s practice as “with one foot in the fertile fields of Indiana with the other in the industry of Danville with the Wabash River flowing between them.”

Dr. Lawrence De Renne, president of the Parke-Vermillion Medical Society, congratulated Dr. and Mrs. Johnson as did Drs. E. M. Dewhirst and Everett M. Laury of Danville, presidents of the staff at St. Elizabeth and Lake View Hospitals respectively. Three vocal numbers by the Lake View Hospital nurses chorus directed by Mrs. James Rose Acton and selections by the Zorah Shrine Brass Band provided musical salutes. The Rev. Joseph Nickerson extended greetings from the Nuns and Employees of St. Elizabeth Hospital, where he is chaplain. Gifts were presented to Dr. Johnson by: George Rentz, on behalf of the Perrysville Lion’s Club of which he is president; Herman Holder, trustee of the Perrysville Masonic Lodge; Max Randall, president of the Perrysville KP Lodge, Mrs. Beverly Estock, Perrysville Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, and Forrest Cossey on behalf of the community. Others introduced, included James Johnson of Danville, brother of Dr. Johnson, and wife; Mrs. John Hughes of Pontiac, Illinois, sister; Mrs. Ruth Stone, friend of the family; Dr. E. M. Dill, superintendent of the Indiana Mason’s Home at Franklin; Ura Seeger, former state senator and Masonic Home officer; Dr. E. F. Dietrich, president of the Vermilion County (Illinois) Medical Society, and James A. Waggener, executive secretary, Indiana Medical Society. Invocation was by the Rev. Chalmer R. Tallman, pastor of the Christian Union Church, and benediction was by the Rev. James O. Knight of the Perrysville Methodist Church. Boy Scouts of newly formed Troop 69 at Perrysville participated in the flag-raising ceremony were John B. Wilson, Harold Jarred, Kenneth Green, and Bobby Ping with Patty Lewsader as bugler. The troop also operated a first aid center and lost-and-found tent. In charge of traffic control and parking of autos was the Cayuga Civil Defense chapter. Refreshments were served by women’s’ organizations of the following churches: West Liberty Church of Christ, Perrysville Methodist, Perrysville Evangelical United Brethren, Stringtown Church of God, Wabash Chapel EUB, Upper Coal Branch, Rileysburg EUB, and Gessie EUB.