Father’s death pushes Medora senior to excel

A Medora High School senior preparing to graduate with her classmates Friday night has had to overcome something few others ever have to do while trying to earn their diploma — coping with the loss of a parent.

Dalea Johnson lost her father, Christopher Joe Johnson, on June 16, 2011, in a rafting accident on the Yellowstone River in western Montana. She was in seventh grade.

“It hit me hard at the time,” she said. “Now, I use (his death) to push myself. He was really smart, and I strive to be like that.”

Johnson said her father would have been pushing her to complete high school and go on to college, which she intends to do.

Both her dad and her mother, Dusty Johnson, graduated from Medora High School, and Johnson said that’s an important factor in her decision to graduate from one of the state’s smallest schools.

Her plans are to major in biochemistry at Indiana University in Bloomington with an eye toward becoming a surgeon down the road.

“I plan on going into the medical school and then going somewhere in the surgical field,” she said. “I don’t know the specific type of surgeon yet.”

Johnson said she always has wanted to do something that’s memorable while helping people.

She said she knows it won’t be easy and it will take her awhile to accomplish her goal.

Johnson said she picked IU because her dad always liked IU.

Johnson said because her dad was in the U.S. Navy, the family moved around a lot — living in Virginia and North Carolina — when she was younger. Her father was a machinist mate who served on the USS Eisenhower and USS Roosevelt and often was at sea.

When her dad was away serving on a ship, they often came back to Medora during the summers to visit relatives.

Winding up in Medora wasn’t such a bad thing, though.

“I really like it here,” she said.

Johnson said she has liked going to Medora High School because she knows everyone and the class sizes are small “… and we’re like family,” she said.

That includes her teachers, who she said always made it easy to ask for help.

Johnson said her least favorite subject was history, and math was her favorite.

“I can really understand numbers,” she said.

Her favorite teachers are Peggy Lackey, who teaches math; and Melissa Keiser, who teaches family and consumer sciences.

Johnson said unlike many of her classmates, she’s going to miss coming to school each day.

“I like coming here, and I don’t want to leave,” she said. “I’m kind of sad.”

Johnson also had some simple advice for children just going to school for the first time.

“Try to do your best because it really does matter in the end,” she said. “You don’t think so, but then it will hit you that all it matters.”

The Dalea Johnson file

Name: Dalea Johnson

Age: 17

Education: Senior at Medora High School

Parents: Dusty M. Johnson and Christopher J. Johnson, who passed away June 16, 2011

Siblings: Mackenzie Johnson and Hudson Johnson

If you go

What: Medora High School’s commencement

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Medora Community Schools gymnasium, 82 S. George St.

Who: 15 seniors will graduate

Author photo
Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.