Tony Johnson

Tony Johnson

“Family, that’s what it’s all about. The most important thing in the whole wide world to me is my family, and I’ve been blessed to have really good families around me all my life. I have had a lot of people who helped me along the way during my life. I have had my mother and my grandmother and Debra’s mother, my brothers and sisters and all the kids; I have my church family at United Church of Montbello; and I have my Montview family. They all have taught me. I am so grateful for them — so, everything I do, I do as a representative of my families.”

That’s the philosophy of this gentle, soft-speaking, genuine man who is an integral, behind-the-scenes, part of Montview.

Tony was born in Norfolk, Virginia. His mother and father had one daughter and three sons, and Tony has two stepbrothers and two stepsisters. Tony says his father was a “jack of all trades but a master of none, and the whole family worked together to get things done.” During his childhood, Tony lived and went to school in Norfolk, but he came to Denver to visit his aunt and uncle many times and, when he was 17, he moved out here to live with his older sister. When his sister married, Tony did not want to be in the way of her and her new husband, so he moved out, got his own apartment, and got a job at Lowry Air Force Base where he worked for nine years. In addition to working at Lowry and a nursing home, he worked at the Aurora Mall on the maintenance staff for nine years. In 1983 Tony had met his wife Debra, who was a cousin of the girlfriend of one of Tony’s cousins. Although Tony was totally in love with Debra, he was somewhat apprehensive about getting married – so apprehensive, that he ended up being late to his own wedding! Now, they have been married since 1990, 25 years and counting! They have three children (Deanna, Toni, and Charles), and six grandchildren. In 1990, after his time at Aurora Mall, Debra suggested they form their own business, which they did -“Elbow Grease Cleaning Service”. Their first clients were Outback Steakhouse, Stuart Anderson (Black Angus), and Old Chicago restaurants.

In 1995, Tony applied for a job at Montview. The first day he was told Montview wasn’t hiring, so he came back the next day. And the next day. And the next day for 30 consecutive days. Finally, Curtis Boyd told him Montview would try him out. During the interview, Tony told Dusty Taylor everything – the good, the bad and the ugly, and Cindy Cearley told Tony what Montview expected and what Tony had to do. Curtis said that Tony was bright young man but that he needed to “get some meat on your head” (to learn things and be conscientious about what he was doing), and he has been here ever since. Curtis was Tony’s mentor at Montview, teaching him about the job, about life, about family, about history, about speaking, and on and on and on. Curtis is one of Tony’s heroes and Tony tries to emulate Curtis – shepherding, teaching, and supporting others. Sometimes as a boy, when he and his friends were walking by Montview, they would come inside and run through the halls and rooms; Mr. Curtis would see them and chase them out of the building. It took Tony more than a year after being hired to tell Mr. Curtis that he was one of those bad boys Mr. Curtis used to chase out of the building, and now he works at Montview!

When asked about his job title at Montview, Tony says it is more important to know what his job title is not. Tony says he is not the Head Sexton or the Lead Sexton or the Building Manager. He is a Sexton and thinks all Sextons are equal. He believes every Sexton needs to know how to do everything and care about everything that comes into and goes on the building. “Montview is our building too.”

Tony is a morning person who likes to “get up and get after it”, not letting time be frittered away. He and Debra like to be with each other, doing things together and with their family. And laughing. They love to laugh and Debra can always make Tony laugh. Ever noticed that small “almost-not-there smile” he always wears? – he’s thinking of her and his family, or families. Montview is his second home and the people here his second family. Going to work is never drudgery for Tony – he loves to be at the Church, sometimes even when he doesn’t have to be. If he’s not scheduled to work, but he doesn’t have anywhere else to be, he’ll sometimes just drop by the church and hang out with his staff. After work, at night when he and Debra are at home together, he likes to play with the dogs, watch sports on TV, and talk and laugh with Debra. They don’t talk about work, or bills or anything negative. And they always joke with each other and laugh!

In his alone time, like his friend John Kuzma, Tony is a poet, though he has no current plans to publish. He “just likes it”. “It makes me feel good to, you know, express myself that way.” He also collects beer steins, and he and Debra collect sports cards and Raggedy Ann Dolls. One of the ways Tony relaxes is by watching sports, especially basketball, with or without his family or anyone else — of course, it’s better with others because they can get excited, yell, analyze and discuss it and laugh together. Currently, Tony is reading several books: Bill Calhoun’s book of notes from his Bible and sermons; one about the Carthaginian military commander, Hannibal; and, one the about the Moors in Spain.

Like many boys, Tony wanted to be an MP in the military, then a police officer, then a basketball coach. He does coach in a boys’ basketball league and he loves it. The gentleness and patience we see when we see him around Montview also serves him well as an educator of boys, on and off the court.

When asked “What are you passionate about”, his instant answer was, “My family. My Families. All though life I have been blessed to have good people around me, helping me to do better.” For example, when Tony was playing basketball in school, his older brother put Tony’s right arm in a sling so he had to learn to dibble and play with his left hand. It made him better. If he could, he’d like to spend some more time with “Mr. Avery”, his health teacher in school, who yelled at, cajoled, supported, taught life to, and loved his students. He remembers Mr. Thompson, his basketball coach, who was part of his high school family. When Mr. Avery caught Tony sauntering down the hall even though he was late to class, and Tony said he was a basketball player and didn’t have to obey hall rules, Mr. Avery and Mr. Thompson got together and removed Tony from the team. Learning that no one is above the rules was a lesson Tony never forgot and, even though he didn’t like it, one for which he respected both men. They were part of the family, and Tony has always learned from family. Tony loves sports and he’d really like to get together more with Bruce Smith, his childhood friend from kindergarten, and talk about Bruce’s 14 years with the Buffalo Bills.

Since he is such a basketball fan, and a coach, he would love to meet Magic Johnson. In his youth, Magic started out very much like Tony- a little work, a little trouble, some janitorial jobs, some hard knocks, a lot of laughs, and a lot of hard work. And, as they each cleaned their boss’s office, they shared a similar dream – to work hard and be the boss. Magic went on to great things, and Tony is happy for Magic. But he’s also happy for himself. Like Magic, he’s worked hard, he’s got a good family, he’s got good people around him, and he likes his life.

Tony is very methodical and careful about his work, but he can also be spontaneous. One time when he and Debra got a new car, they were just driving around and Tony said, “Let’s go to Kansas City.” So they turned a corner and drove for Kansas City. (Ask Tony about that trip.)

Some day he wants to take Debra back to Norfolk to show her all the places where he grew up. Because family is important. Sometimes he’ll hear a song and ask one of the family, “Where were you and what were you doing when you first heard that song” and he’ll learn more about them and tell them more about himself. He especially wants to take Debra to Virginia in the Fall, when the trees are changing colors and the tourists are gone, so they can just walk on the beach and watch the ships and talk. And laugh.

Good family man that he is, if he knew that we would be marooned on an island, he’d be sure Debra was there, but he’d also want to have writing materials so he could write down things about his childhood and his life for his family to read and know. He’d write a little poetry, but mostly he’d write about his family(ies).

If Tony had to name three people he’d want to be on that island with him, he’d want Debra, his mother and Debra’s mother. From Debra he learned to be a good man and husband and father; from his mother, who did everything for him when he was little, he learned what he needed to know to grow up; and, from Debra’s mother, he learned all about her family, about the Choctaw and Seminole family history, about how to worship when you are alone, and about the philosophy of “I’m just here to help my family.” Family, as always. And, of course, they all would joke and laugh together on that island.

One thing Tony has always wanted to do, but has never done, is to be on a stage, in front of a lot of people, as an actor, singer, or stand-up comic.

Tony says that most people don’t know about all the changes he has seen at Montview over the years that have had an impact on him. He has seen pastors and members come and go and boys and girls grow up and become doctors and lawyers and teachers; he has seen families started with weddings, lives changed with memorial services, and people with hair become people with white hair become people with no hair. Montview is a lot busier than when he first started working here, too. He loves being busy helping with all the things and programs that the people at Montview do to help others (like trips and support to Nepal and Mexico, youth work trips, Habitat, Metro Caring, North Park Hill, the school, Sunday morning and weeknight classes). He loves the individual members who offer scholarships without public recognition. He loves opening the church to outside groups and setting up tables and chairs to help them make things happen. He says that most people probably don’t realize how important Montview is to him. It is given him the opportunity to learn, to provide for his family and to be a better husband, father and person. From his first days with Curtis Boyd until now, Tony has learned from and loved Montview. It’s a very important part of his life – of his family.

And Tony is a very important part of Montview.

So, next time you see Tony, tell them how glad you are that HE is part of Our Montview family.

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