Farmington -- Some 250 friends, colleagues and trustees honored The Baptist Home's retiring president, Larry Johnson, and his wife and administrative assistant, Jane, in Farmington Dec. 2.
The retirement event featured resolutions from Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt and both the state Senate and House of Representatives and a parade of well-wishers recalling memories and bringing gifts.
The couple will retire from their posts at The Baptist Home on Dec. 31, and they absorbed some good-natured kidding but mostly affirmation for their dedication and leadership at Missouri Baptists' ministry to senior adults.
Larry Johnson began with the Home on Sept. 1, 1984, and Jane joined the staff less than a year later, on July 1, 1985.
His career at the Home included development, establishment and administration of the Chillicothe facility, then administration of the Ironton campus. In 1997, trustees named him president of The Baptist Home.
As for Jane, Baptist Home trustee Annetta Kirkpatrick noted, "Jane served as a faithful, professional assistant throughout their ministry at The Baptist Home."
Several speakers took note of Jane's abilities at handling the detailed tasks of administrative support, both for the staff and the trustees, as well as the artistic talent she brought to developing brochures, promotional pieces and displays.
One of Larry's predecessors as administrator of The Baptist Home, John Burney, noted that he and his wife have continued to serve the Baptist Home in retirement, amassing 70 years.
"Don't ride off too far," he cautioned, "you may be needed back here."
Larry's immediate predecessor, Ed Goodwin, recalled taking Larry to lunch and inviting him to start the work in Chillicothe.
Goodwin made the offer too good to refuse, offering to pay for lunch if Larry took the job, requiring Larry to pick up the tab if he didn't. The result was the establishment of the Chillicothe campus on what was a cow pasture.
Bill Riggs of Liberty, a former chair of the Home's board, recalled how his own association with the Ironton facility began when he was a boy visiting his grandparents, Milford and Mary Riggs, the Home's founders.
Riggs recalled a teaching from his days training as a bus driver: "A successful trip is one made safely, in spite of adverse circumstances."
"If anyone has ever had to deal with adverse circumstances, it is Larry Johnson in his role as president of The Baptist Home in these recent years," Riggs said.
"But he and his staff have been able to maintain his excellent regular operations and ministry of the Home, as well as to keep a stiff upper lip and a steel backbone while dealing with all the 'adverse circumstances.'"
Board attorney Jim Shoemake praised the Johnsons and the ministry of The Baptist Home, noting that in a career of working with countless corporations, he had never witnessed the level of "enthusiasm, cooperation and dedication" that he had observed at the Home.
Former Missouri Baptist Convention executive director Don Wideman praised the retiring president.
"Larry has been a stalwart. I appreciate him more than I can say. He's a man of strength and integrity."
Bill Miller, pastor of First Baptist Church, Farmington, said Larry fit the profile of a leader by demonstrating honesty and integrity, and being competent, forward-looking and an inspiration. In addition, he said, the retiring leader has embodied faithfulness.
"Larry, you are the embodiment of these five qualities; and Jane, you are, too."
Word&Way editor Bill Webb praised the couple and took note of Larry's passion as he communicated the mission of The Baptist Home in churches and in denominational reporting sessions.
The Missouri Baptist Foundation's Jim Smith and Stephen Mathis presented three resolutions and gave the couple a mantel clock on behalf of the Foundation's board of trustees.
Alton Lacey, president of Missouri Baptist University, presented a resolution approved by the university's board of trustees and described Larry as a person of integrity, a word repeated over and over during the evening.
Kirkpatrick presented Jane Johnson a desktop computer on behalf of the trustees, while trustee Ron Mackey represented the board in presenting Larry with a laptop computer.
Long-time trustee Hertha Russell presented Jane with an antique rocking chair.
"It's been an incredible journey, and you'll always be a part of it," Jane told the audience. "Thank you for being a part of our lives."
"You all are special," Larry said. "It has been an absolute privilege to be a part of The Baptist Home ministry."
The Home had been important to him throughout his life, Larry said. As a boy, his family brought canned goods for the residents, and his church regularly provided chapel services.
One of his great privileges was to be invited to speak in churches all over Missouri and to visit in homes of Baptist Home supporters, he said.
In a career with many highlights, the retiring president acknowledged that perhaps his most satisfying service was as administrator and chaplain at Chillicothe.
Leading chapel was one of the most significant services he and his wife rendered there, he said.
Admitting he had grown weary of the heavy load of responsibility as president of the Home, he added, "I never got tired of The Baptist Home. I never got tired of ministry to the elderly."
He acknowledged he will miss his relationship with residents.
"They have taught me so much," he said. "I love the challlenge, and I will miss that."