Johnston figures she was honored with an award last month because of her work with the Give Kids A Smile dental health program. But as the title of the Dr. Doren Fredrickson Lifetime Commitment to Public Health Award indicates, Johnston's contributions to improving the health of the community reaches beyond one program.
A native of Spirit Lake, Iowa, Johnston graduated from high school in Topeka and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kansas State University.
She worked as director of nutritional services at Riverside Hospital and as a clinical dietitian at St. Francis Hospital (now Via Christi) for 17 years. The plan had been to move to North Carolina to get a master’s degree in public health when her daughter graduated from high school.
Instead, in 1990 she went to work for the state Department of Health and Environment on the Kansas LEAN (Leadership to Encourage Activity and Nutrition) program, collaborating with more than 700 groups and individuals throughout the state over the next nine years.
“It was really the beginning of a change in the way we do public health in Kansas,” she said.
In 1999, she and a colleague received a multi-year grant from the federally funded National Institutes of Health to help make middle schools healthier places. She worked out of an office at the University of Kansas School of Medicine–Wichita, which in 2003 asked her to join its faculty. She conducts community-based participatory research, working most recently with the Give Kids A Smile program and Healthy Congregations, an effort involving 60 United Methodist churches. She’s also teacher in the master’s of public health program.
Johnston, 61, said she and her husband, Bill, have “a lot of hobbies.” He's a bluegrass musician; the couple got married in 1975 during one of their annual trips to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield. Johnston sews, loves cooking for a crowd – “the bigger, the better” – and spending time with her two granddaughters, Chesley, 8, and Audrey, 6.
“They live three blocks from us, so we have a great time with them.”