Rose Johnson can go almost anywhere and run into someone she met as part of her job.
Johnson has worked in the group’s office at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for 45 years and sees current and former students of the group even walking down the street in other cities. Over the years, she has watched the collaborative environment foster friendships among the students she works with every day.
“They are so smart, so funny, so compassionate and kind,” she said.
Johnson will be among the honorees at the celebration of service, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 27, at the Nebraska Coliseum. The celebration includes a luncheon for all University of Nebraska–Lincoln employees.
Tony Falcone, associate director of bands and director of the Cornhusker Marching Band, said Johnson loved the university, the band and the students and provided a major institutional memory to the program.
“Rose is the glue that holds our program together,” he said. “There’s rarely a situation that Rose hasn’t seen before, and she always has wise counsel to guide us through. When alumni come back to visit, she’s always their first stop.”
Johnson grew up in a musical family, with siblings who participated in the Cornhusker Marching Band. However, she did not feel that she had musical talent. Instead, she dabbles in the visual arts, but sees how much joy music brings to her siblings and others they work with.
“I was extremely jealous that they were doing all these fun things,” she said.
After graduating from an art school in Nebraska, Johnson found herself unsure of her next step when her brother told her about an open position in the band’s office. She started in the department as secretary to Jack Snyder, director of gangs at the time.
From those early days, she learned that the cement floor of the basement of the Westbrook Music Building could dry a band’s feathered feathers, and watched as communication with the entire ensemble moved from the phone tree to the push of a button.
Her responsibilities now include planning festivals, camps, and auditions, maintaining databases, coordinating travel, and even occasionally using her art degree with a little graphic design.
Johnson is also one of the people who help define, distribute and maintain the band’s uniforms. She served on the committee that designed the current uniforms about 17 years ago.
On home football game days, Johnson helps with the uniform check before the game. She and her group office colleague, Jan Deaton, check that buttons are sewn on securely, hats fit properly and make sure they have all the necessary uniforms. They also provide water to the gang and collect feathers from hats. It can be as long as a 12-hour day, she said.
Johnson is also a huge sports fan and loves football, so it’s special to be able to spend this time with the students during their game day. She enjoys watching the young musicians share their hard work at their first halftime show of the season — and the shows that follow.
“They’re just grinning from ear to ear,” she said. “It’s such an experience to play in front of that crowd. It’s so big, we know they’re going to be there and they’re invested.”
Johnson has also been able to venture outside of Lincoln on trips with the group. In fact, her first plane trip was to the Orange Bowl in January 1979. She recently counted that she had visited 39 states, and while not all of them were group trips, many were. In addition to several colleges in the country, she was also able to visit Ireland as a staff member in 1996.
“It was extraordinary to see the country through the band,” she said.
The 2002 Rose Bowl visit was a particularly memorable trip for Johnson, who also had the opportunity to attend several national championship games. She said seeing the Rose Parade in person was much better than watching it on TV.
“You don’t get the impact of the full sensory experience,” she said. “It smells so beautiful.”
As she waited for the marching band at the end of the five-mile parade, she was surprised to see the excitement of the students.
“I thought the students would be exhausted when they got to the end, but they weren’t, they were energized,” she said.
At the game, Johnson said many Husker fans came without tickets just to take in the atmosphere of the Rose Bowl Stadium. She went outside to get a hot dog and a drink, but the stand ran out of napkins, she said.
“I said, ‘It’s the first trimester!'” she said. “And he said, ‘We were not prepared for you people.
Johnson’s job has given her some amazing experiences, she said, but every day she gets to see the connections students make as they work on the common project of making music together. She tells new students that the group gives them a built-in group of friends.
“They move in packs of 20,” she said.
Interacting with so many students throughout their time at Nebraska allows Johnson to watch them grow into young adults.
“You see the growth from a scared freshman to when they start performing and the confidence level just goes up,” she said. “Incredible.”
Johnson said people sometimes ask her when she plans to retire, and she says it won’t be soon.
“The campus is home,” she said. “That’s what it feels like. I feel comfortable there.”