92 yo WWII vet continues to serve his community

Published: Nov. 11, 2019 at 8:09 AM CST
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A veteran of both World War II and the Korean conflict, is still serving his community, at 92 years old, in the Manhattan Kiwanis Club.

Ken Johnson left high school at 16 to help on his family farm. By age 18, he was drafted into the army as a telephone lineman.

“I was working with controlling and planting harbor mines in the Gulf of Panama, at the Pacific entrance to the canal.” Ken Johnson says.

After leaving the Army, Ken returned to Kentucky to work and go to college, even though he hadn’t completed high school.

“When I talked with the dean he says, ‘you don’t…even if you pass the GED test…you don’t have enough education.’” Johnson says.

Ken earned his GED, then spent two years in college before enlisting in the Air Force. Ken was initially stationed in California assisting with soldier placement, then transferred to Omaha, Nebraska to work as part of the Strategic Air Command.

“The whole idea was to protect this country from a strike, by the Soviet Union…a nuclear strike, but that’s what I did for two years.” Johnson says.

Ken met his wife, Nina, in Omaha, when a friend brought her to an Air Force picnic as a blind date for another airman.

“I started talking to Nina …we just started talking and we wound up walking off and leaving her date…” Johnson recalls, laughing.

After his service, Ken went back to college and received a degree in secondary education. He went on to teach in high schools and community colleges for the next 30 years.

“Nina and I had always considered living in a…in a college town, a university town” Johnson says.

With their daughter, Laurie, working at Kansas State, they decided Manhattan would be that place. It’s also where he’s continued servicing through the Kiwanis club. For the last 15 years, Ken has been a representative to the Key Club at Manhattan High School and every Wednesday he delivers meals to community members in need.

“I consider it a privilege, really a privilege, not any sacrifice.” Johnson says.

On nice days when he’s not volunteering with the Kiwanis Club, you’ll still catch Ken out riding his bicycle around the neighborhood.