Brownstown man to have open house for 90th birthday

John Peter “Pete” Johnson was born at home Aug. 25, 1933, in Ewing, the last and ninth child of Guy and Minnie Hurley Johnson.

Pete said at the tender age of 9, his father died unexpectedly, leaving his mother, sisters Jennie Ann and Earlene and him still at home.

“Mother did the best she could, but it was really hard back then because the country had just come through the Depression, and World War II was in progress,” he said. “There weren’t many jobs available.”

His faith is important to Pete, and at 11, he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior.

“I joined Brownstown Christian Church, and I have 79 years of serving at church as a deacon and on various committees,” he said. “The Lord Jesus has been my trusted and faithful companion all of my life, and I am looking forward to being with him throughout all eternity. It is a gift of grace.”

As a child growing up in Ewing, Pete worked at Ice House, Morgan’s tomato fields and all of the odd jobs he could find.

“I cleaned windows for the barber shop, mowed lawns and helped Mrs. Winklepleck at the funeral home,” he said. “During my four years in high school, I was a paperboy and passed papers for The Indianapolis Star.”

He said during his teenage years, he developed a love for sports, especially fastpitch softball.

“Brownstown Park was my home away from home,” Pete said. “Under the supervision of ‘Teach’ Bartels, he taught me the correct way to pitch horseshoes, play croquet and basketball and my favorite was fastpitch softball.”

Pete was the bat boy for the Brownstown Lions Club, which had included a great pitcher from Indianapolis, Jim McClinn.

“I got to know Jim, and he was a big influence and taught me a lot about pitching fastpitch softball,” he said. “I practiced all the time at the park and was privileged to be chosen to go to Camp Crosley at Leesburg for two summers.”

Camp Crosley was the first time Pete pitched in a real game, and they won the first softball game for the camp.

“They presented me with the Medal of Honor that summer, and from then on, I was a left-handed fastpitch softball pitcher,” he said. “After graduating from Brownstown High School in 1951, I was employed by Marion-Kay Products, which also sponsored a fastpitch softball team.”

Pete said that team was one of Indiana’s best, playing all over the state. They played in the state finals several times, and that team was later sponsored by Poky Robinson and known as Poky’s.

“In 1953, I joined the United States Air Force Reserve and transferred to the National Guard in 1954,” he said. “I was called to serve my country in the U.S. Army in 1955, going to Korea in 1956-1957.”

While in Korea, the company commander, Capt. Neely, was looking for pitchers for the camp’s softball team. Kenny Burns of Freetown was in Pete’s company and knew he played softball back home.

“Kenny said, ‘We’ve got a pitcher right here — Pete,’ and Capt. Neely said, ‘Well, get him out here and let’s see what he’s got,’” Pete said. “I pitched several balls to the catcher and broke his hand. Needless to say, I became our company’s pitcher, winning game after game.”

He said Pusan was their team name because that was where they were stationed. Pusan won the all-Korean softball tournament, which led to games in Okinawa and Japan.

“Returning home from service, I returned to Marion-Kay and played softball in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio,” Pete said. “I finished playing softball by winning the 32-team double-elimination tournament at Zionsville, being named most valuable player, never losing a game.”

Pete and his wife, Helen Gilstrap Johnson, live in Brownstown currently. She said the first time she ever saw Pete was at the square in Bedford. She saw him, fell for him and that was it.

“Back in the 1950s, that was when drive-in fast food began to pop up, and we had two or three places in Bedford where the teenagers kind of took over,” Helen said. “On Friday and Saturday nights, we’d go up to the square and people would lap the square, and when you got tired of driving, then you parked on the square and talked.”

She said Pete and a friend came over from Brownstown, and they got caught up in the looping.

“My friend and I saw them and waved and they waved back, and I thought he was pretty cute and wondered where he was from. Then they finally stopped and talked to us,” Helen said. “They asked if we wanted to go with them to get a Coke, so we went to one of the little drive-ins. Then he brought us back to our car, and we talked a while longer.”

Pete brought up the fact he already had a girlfriend at that time, but after meeting Helen, he dropped the girlfriend like a hot potato.

Helen said it was like they were a magnet to one another, and once they met, she knew she really liked him and wanted to see him again.

“I had to kind of chase him because he had a girlfriend, and I had to put in some effort,” she said. “We’ve been married 63 years and went together two years before we got married.”

She said they had a wonderful courtship and a good life with their children, who were really good, sweet kids.

“We’ve had a lot of fun through the years with family, laughing and having fun, and we’ve had a wonderful, full life,” Helen said.

Pete is a lifelong fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Indiana Hoosiers. He also enjoys listening to Brownstown Central football and basketball games on the radio, he said.

The couple have two children, Karen Cooper of Brownstown and John Johnson of Washington. They also have four grandchildren, Chase Cooper of Dallas, Texas; Lauren Swanson of Austin, Texas; Jayde Johnson of Columbus; and Jalen Johnson of Columbus.

John said his dad grew up poor after the death of his father.

“He went to work as a child to support his mother and sisters; however, he was always proud of where he came from and his family, especially his mother,” John said. “I learned that work was very important from a young age, as he helped me start mowing lawns when I was 10.”

He said his dad always had time for him, and his favorite memory is throwing a baseball with him on most days when he got home from work, and they loved baseball.

“One of my favorite quotes from my dad, who always put God and family first, is ‘If you have a problem and it can be fixed by money, then you don’t really have a problem,’” John said. “Love you, Dad.”

Karen said one of the best memories she has of her dad growing up is when they were in a serious situation, he would always make them laugh.

“He never met a stranger and could talk to anyone. He loves my mom and was and is a wonderful dad to me and my brother,” she said. “More importantly, he loves God and always took us to church and Sunday school, and he always prayed before meals and at family gatherings.”

Even now and for many years, her parents read the Bible and discuss it every day.

“He and my mom pray for my and John’s families every day,” Karen said. “Thanks for being a great man and loving father. I love you, Dad.”

Pete said he attributes making it to 90 years old because he had such a good helper in Helen and he has been blessed with good health.

“My fifth grade teacher wrote in my autograph book ‘Whoever you are, be noble. Whatever you do, do well. Whenever you speak, speak kindly. Enjoy where you dwell,’” he said. “That’s a quote I try to live by.”

An open house is planned for Pete from 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 26, the day after his 90th birthday, at his and Helen’s home, 485 S. County Road 25E, Brownstown. No gifts, please. Just come to visit and celebrate.