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Noreen and Barent Johnson

Growing up in Denver, Noreen Johnson’s only trips out of state were to her sister’s ranch in Wyoming during haying season. That changed drastically after her first marriage; she and her husband (and later children) lived on the East Coast (Boston and Charleton City, Massachusetts), the West Coast (Seattle), as well as in Manhattan, Kansas. They added international flavor to their travels with a year in Switzerland before settling in Oshkosh in 1976. As they moved about the country, Noreen exhibited her versatility in different positions. She worked as a secretary, taught 6th grade, and did substitute teaching. She served as coordinator of student teaching placements for the College of Education at the University of Washington and as a part-time secretary for commencement at UWO.

Barry Johnson was born on the opposite side of the country, suburban Philadelphia. He remained a Pennsylvanian through college and graduate school, receiving his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1965. UWO offered him a faculty position and Barry began his teaching career here in September 1965.

The two families settled as neighbors in Oshkosh; Barry’s three sons and Noreen’s two sons and a daughter formed childhood friendships. Eventually, both marriages ended in divorce, and Barry and Noreen began dating. They married in November of 1988, uniting families, talents, and their many shared interests.

Both have long records of volunteering, involvement, and accomplishments. Much of the work Noreen has done has involved education at different levels. She received a Master’s Degree in counseling from UWO that led to the last position she held before retirement: Trades and Industry-Academic Counselor at Fox Valley Technical College. Not content to do only what the job required, she became involved in the Wisconsin College Personnel Association and served as its president for one year.

Barry, meantime, served in positions that took him beyond UWO classrooms. He was chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department for four years, and then Associate Dean of the College of Letters and Science.  He retrained
in Computer Science from 1981 to 1983 and joined the faculty in that department in 1983, eventual serving as its chair. Barry retired in 1998; Noreen in 1996.

But “retired” is not a word to apply to this active couple. They continue to share their talents with various organizations in Oshkosh and throughout the Fox Valley.  Among Noreen’s many accomplishments is her development of a mentoring program for girls in the Quest Program sponsored by the American Association of University Women. Both she and Barry are active in the First Presbyterian Church of Oshkosh where they sing in the choir and serve on various committees. Barry has worked on local political campaigns, was a candidate for the County Board, and is currently a volunteer mediator for the Winnebago Conflict Resolution Center, an avocation he finds rewarding because it helps people resolve conflicts without resorting to costly court battles.

It is not surprising that their interests and talents led Noreen and Barry to Learning in Retirement. No sooner had Barry volunteered for the curriculum committee than he found himself its chairman when Fred Born resigned the position. He also served as LIR vice president for a year and as treasurer for three years. His enthusiasm for the program had far-reaching effects. Barry sent information on LIR to his brother who created a similar, highly successful program in Potsdam, New York, called SOAR (Significant Opportunities After Retirement).

Noreen’s interest in LIR led to her being named president in 2005, after many years on the curriculum committee.  From the perspective of the presidency, she gained new insight into a main strength of the organization: recognition of the special talents of members who can put these skills to work for the advantage of the whole group. For example, she had great praise for the committee that has raised our membership to an all-time high this year.

Noreen also worked diligently to locate and arrange off-campus sites for sessions to help control costs and relieve the constant hassle of finding parking spaces on campus.

Both she and Barry are quick to note that the main advantage of LIR—aside from the knowledge gained in the courses—is the opportunity to form friendships with people from diverse backgrounds.

Hearing the Johnsons describe their many activities,  one is left wondering if this couple has found a way to slow down the clock to fit it all in. They continue to travel worldwide, having visited Canada, Greece, and Russia in the last two years.  Their six children are scattered across the country (with ten grandchildren and one on the way),  offering opportunities to visit from Boston to Sacramento with stops in Cleveland and Minneapolis (two children remained Wisconsinites, one living in Oshkosh and one in Madison). They happily recount the past Christmas season when their house echoed with the delight of six little girls, all under the age of six.

Spring and summer find them in their yard and garden where they grow flowers, vegetables, apples. Much of the produce is canned or frozen, including Barry’s latest specialty, apple juice made with a press he inherited. Snowbound in a long winter, they’ve undertaken to cane a set of chairs. Both are music lovers as well as avid readers who share insights and observations on books that they are reading.

Having lived in many cities and traveled the world, Barry and Noreen are proud to call Oshkosh home, and they value the culture, friendliness, and opportunities here. LIR is fortunate to be the recipient of their willingness to share their many talents.