Ellery supervisor reflects on long career in retirement
ELLERY — “What’s your secret?” a voice called out from the back of the room.
Arden Johnson, surrounded by friends and colleagues, pondered for a moment.
“Good luck, good friends and good support,” Johnson finally replied. “I tried to treat everybody alike, and if anybody had a problem, I always tried to sit down and talk with them. Sometimes, it worked out, sometimes it didn’t work out — we tried. I think just trying and being faithful, being truthful to people is very important.”
Over the past 50 years, Johnson has been involved in public service as the Ellery town supervisor. He’s believed to be the oldest and longest tenured town supervisor in New York state.
A gathering was held for Johnson at the Ellery Town Hall on Thursday to celebrate his retirement.
Johnson, who recently turned 90 years old, has served as town supervisor since 1972. He has also served as a Chautauqua County legislator, from 1980 until 1983; as Brocton’s fire chief; and as a member of the Brocton Village Board in the 1950s.
Johnson said some of his biggest accomplishments over the years include work to the highway department and creating the Ellery Town Park.
“(The park) is open to the community, and not only the town of Ellery, but the whole county,” he said. “I’m very proud of that park and I certainly hope it will continue. It’s a very important piece to the community.”
Johnson said after the grass was put in at the park, he remembered several mornings where he got up at 4 a.m. to water the field with hoses.
“Other than that, I haven’t done a hell of a lot,” he said wryly, drawing laughs from the crowd.
Chautauqua County Legislator Pierre Chagnon spoke up regarding the park, saying he remembered Johnson bringing up its creation. “Arden kept talking about his dream of having a town park, and he kept talking and talking about it, and finally, he talked Larry and me into it, ‘Why don’t you guys just get together, get a little committee going and let’s get a town park.’ It was always Arden’s dream, and he was the biggest supporter of the creation of that town park and Craig Miller as well, God Rest his soul.”
He added, “That town park wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for Arden’s dream. We’re so proud that you persisted and talked us into getting on board.”
Neil Robinson, town attorney, recounted how he was asked to take up his position with the town.
“I remember in around December of 1983, Arden had just been re-elected to be supervisor that November, and I was getting gas … and Arden pulled up in his big Cadillac. ‘Do you want to be our town attorney?'” Robinson said. “I started in January and went to the January meeting, went to the February meeting and, later, I contacted Arden and said, ‘Arden, does this job pay anything?’ He explained to me that they always hold the first month’s check.”
Robinson said he has always been impressed with Johnson’s desire to do what was best for the residents of the town.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job,” he said. “He hired me as a town attorney, so I got a job and I got a friend.”
Chautauqua County Executive PJ Wendel said, all things considered, Johnson’s input helped put him where he is today.
“I just can’t thank you enough for everything you’ve done for the residents, but just as a close, personal friend to me starting my career and I can’t say any more than you mean the world to my wife and I, my family,” Wendel said. “I thank you on behalf of the residents of this county for everything you’ve done — thank you for 50 years and we have appreciated every minute.”
Mark Schlemmer, a town council member, presented Johnson with a plaque in honor of his service and thanked him for all he had done for the community over the years.
Others gathered included town council members John Cresanti and Lawrence Anderson.