GARNER – Former Town Council Member Jackie Johns has been named the 2021 recipient of the James R. Stevens Service to Garner Award, considered our community’s most prestigious recognition for public service.
Mr. Johns, who passed away in January 2019 at the age of 81, is being honored posthumously. The Town Council will recognize Mr. Johns at its Aug. 17 regular meeting starting at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at Garner Town Hall, located at 900 7th Ave.
Mr. Johns served as a Town alderman and, later, Town Council member for a total of nearly 36 years during three separate tenures. A native of the Auburn community, Mr. Johns was the first African American elected municipal official in town history and served as Garner’s only African American elected official during his entire time on the Board of Aldermen and Town Council.
Former Mayor Ronnie Williams, who served as an alderman and Council member with Mr. Johns before becoming mayor, said Mr. Johns “was a true advocate for the people.”
“He was the people’s politician,” Williams said. “He looked out for the interests of every citizen in town.”
Longtime Garner resident and community activist Helen Phillips had similar recollections of Mr. Johns. “He has always spoken for the community,” she said after Mr. Johns’ passing. “He was always trying to help people live better.”
Mr. Johns was first elected as an alderman in 1973 and served four years. He then had a second stint as an alderman from 1979 to 1983. In 1991, he was voted into office again. This time, he would serve as an alderman and Council member until his death.
Mr. Johns also was a member and deacon of Springfield Baptist Church in Garner. In addition, he served on the church’s Board of Trustees and as a Sunday school superintendent. He also was known to have regularly visited other churches all over Garner and to have made contributions to them.
When asked about the accomplishment of which he was most proud as an elected official, Mr. Johns cited being part of the leadership that decided to purchase the land that became Lake Benson Park. Prior to its acquisition by the Town in the early 1980s, the tract had been farmland.
Mr. Johns helped lead Garner as it grew and evolved in numerous ways. The Town’s population was approximately 7,000 when Mr. Johns won his first aldermen election in 1973. At the time of his passing, Garner had over 31,000 residents.
Over the span of his service, White Oak Crossing shopping center was built; White Deer Park was developed and opened; Garner Performing Arts Center was renovated and rebranded; and the Town built a new Town Hall and police headquarters as a result of $35.7 million bond program approved by voters in 2013.
Garner also was named an All-America City during Mr. Johns’ tenure, and he proudly served as a delegate with the citizen-led team that traveled to Denver to earn the prestigious national recognition in 2013.
Following his passing, the community recognized Mr. Johns in a unique way. In response to a remarkable petition drive that collected over 1,000 signatures, the Town Council in August 2019 voted unanimously to change the name of Rand Mill Park to Jackie Johns Sr. Community Park.
The park, managed by the Town of Garner’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department, is located at 508 Rand Mill Road in the neighborhood where Mr. Johns and his wife, Lila, lived with their two sons. In the early 1980s, Mr. Johns was instrumental in persuading Town leaders to move the park from its location at the corner of Bagwell Street and Smith Drive to its current site, and to upgrade park amenities to include a ballfield, basketball court, playground equipment and picnic shelter.
Just before the Council voted to rename the park, former Mayor Williams remarked, “I think it’s safe to say—and we have to believe—that Jackie is looking down tonight, and he’s pleased with what he sees.”
ABOUT THE JAMES R. STEVENS SERVICE TO GARNER AWARD
The James R. Stevens Service to Garner Award is intended to recognize people who have made substantial, outstanding contributions to Garner over a period of years. Emphasis is on service rendered over an extended period of time with preference given to nominees with 20-plus years of service. This is in keeping with James R. Stevens’ tradition of service spanning decades. Non-residents of Garner are eligible if the award committee deems they meet the criteria necessary to receive the honor. The award also can be bestowed posthumously, as in the case of Mr. Johns.