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Hernando neighbors | Charlene Johnston, 75

Charlene Johnston has a taste for everything

Charlene Johnston, 75, spent most of her career practicing or teaching dental hygiene, but she made time along the way for modeling, dancing, singing, fashion design and oil painting.

Ron Thompson | Times

Charlene Johnston, 75, spent most of her career practicing or teaching dental hygiene, but she made time along the way for modeling, dancing, singing, fashion design and oil painting.

How long have you lived in Hernando County, and where do you live? Where did you live previously?

My husband, Wallace, and I have lived in Spring Hill since 1995. We encountered the no-name storm in 1993 while we were house shopping and consider ourselves very brave for moving here anyway.

My sister, Yvonne, and I were born in Harlem, N.Y., and while my dad was serving in World War II, we moved to the Bronx, and later to St. Albans (Queens), N.Y., where my parents bought their first home. In 1980, I moved from New York to Arlington, Va., where I remained for 15 years until retirement in 1995.

Who are the members of your family?

Besides Wallace, my daughter, Leana Wilkerson, resides here in Spring Hill, and my son, Glen Cunningham, and his wife, Sharon, live in Richmond, Va., with two of my grandchildren, Sej and Blair. My granddaughter Lenice and her husband, Jerome Williams, live in Maryland with my great-granddaughter, Isis.

On Wallace's side of the family, I have three stepchildren — Asao, Toshio and Paige — and three grandchildren living in New York — Justyn, Jourdan and Miles.

I have cousins who live here in Spring Hill, and before my parents (Louis and Rosenda Batson) passed away, they had moved here from New York as well.

We have a very cultural family, so to appease everyone, we celebrate Noche Bueno, Christmas and Kwanzaa.

Tell us about your career.

In 1950, I graduated from Walton High School, and in 1953 I graduated from New York City Community College with a dental hygiene degree. I worked in the dental profession for many years before returning to college to earn a bachelor's degree in dental health education and a master's in public health, both at New York University.

I taught dental hygiene at Hostos Community College and New York City Community College. In 1980, I moved to Virginia and became the dean of the dental hygiene program at Northern Virginia Community College for 15 years. I retired as full professor in 1990 after completing my doctoral work at Virginia Tech in higher education administration.

In my opinion, careers should be fun, too, so in between serious work, I modeled professionally, sang and danced on television and in clubs and theaters (twice at Carnegie Hall). I graduated from New York School of Interior Design and studied fashion design and illustration and oil painting.

What kinds of activities are you involved in now?

I am thoroughly enjoying retirement. I do get involved in community activities that I enjoy.

I was on the board of the African-American Museum of Art in Tampa. For several years, I worked on presenting Kwanzaa celebrations at my church, Unitarian Universalist Church in the Pines. For eight years, I produced and presented a jazz vespers at the UU Church with live jazz music performed by members of the Hernando Jazz Society. For several years, I was responsible for the production of black history programs with the African-American Club of Hernando County.

I have been a member of the African American Club for 13 years, for many years as director of public relations. I am currently an officer on the club's board of directors. I was president of the Hernando Performing Arts Guild for two years and a member for five.

Not long ago, I helped my husband organize and operate a tutorial program at New Hope Baptist Church. I just recently joined the Brooksville Music Club and will be presenting a program on the life of Irving Burgie, composer of the Belafonte Caribbean songs (Day-O, Jamaica Farewell, etc.) written by Mr. Burgie.

I also love to watch cooking shows and try out new recipes. Entertaining in my home is most enjoyable to me.

Do you have any special hobbies?

I love being involved in people activities and enjoy entertaining, especially with a theme. Last summer, I invited a group of friends for an afternoon of lunch and poetry reading in the Secret Garden at the Botanical Gardens in Spring Hill.

I have been a member of the Hernando County Family YMCA for the past 10 years and especially love the water programs. I also love to travel and have traveled all over the USA, to Greece, Italy, France, Switzerland, England, Africa, Canada, Alaska, Nova Scotia, Hawaii and South America. Wallace and I have been to Mexico six times, and to many of the Caribbean Islands. Our favorite is Barbados, where I still have family.

I recently took several courses in "writing your life story" at the University of South Florida, and so far have written two books, but can't figure out how to go about the publishing part yet.

What are your favorite things to do in Hernando County?

With the traffic lately, I feel like I am in a large metropolitan area. I do, however, enjoy attending the Hernando Jazz Society sessions, Hernando Performing Arts Center performances, Stage West, Hernando Symphony and Nature Coast Technical High School theater. I enjoy the beach and sunsets at Pine Island, and the fellowship at the Unitarian Universalist Church in the Pines.

My wonderful husband gave me my 70th birthday party at Weeki Wachee Springs. It was a wonderful treat for me and about 60 friends and family. I participate in activities with the African-American Club and have taken part in political campaigns here, including the Barack Obama for President campaign.

What do you think would make Hernando County a better place to live?

I would love to see a good bookstore with a coffee shop here. More "artsy" things like traveling exhibits would be nice. With the county's growth, we have outgrown some things. I think we need at least one more post office built, and more major through streets. And I would like to see/hear a calypso/steel drum band at Pine Island on a regular basis.

Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.

I used to want to be a stand-up comedian with a Barbadian accent. Also, Wallace took me to my senior prom in 1950 and, 42 years later, we married.

Hernando Neighbors is an occasional feature of the Hernando Times. Do you know someone who would make a good profile? We'd like to hear from you. Contact Jean Hayes, community news coordinator, at [email protected] or (352) 848-1438.

Charlene Johnston has a taste for everything 01/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 31, 2009 12:56pm]
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