INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Hank Johnson believes that charity begins at home – and can extend as far away as the Amazon region of Brazil.
Johnson, an electrical engineer, has lived in Indian Rocks Beach all of his life, for some 50 years. The reason he has chosen to stay is as basic as the feeling of sand between your toes.
“I love the beach,” said Johnson. “I enjoy the water. I’d much rather be in a boat than in a car.”
A third generation Floridian, the beach was always Johnson’s front yard and his mother, Julia Johnson, still lives in his childhood home in The Narrows. He never wants to leave Indian Rocks Beach.
“I have a fondness for it,” Johnson said, in understated fashion.
Consequently, he found a way to contribute his engineering expertise to the beach community he so loves.
Last year, Johnson designed the low-level bollard lighting system that dramatically decreases the negative impact of artificial lighting on the beach – more specifically, to the sea turtles that nest there each year. His drawings helped to secure a grant for the city to pay for the lighting project at the beach accesses.
“I knew right off the bat what needed to be done,” said the University of South Florida graduate, who attended Anona Elementary, Seminole High School and (what was then) St. Petersburg Junior College.
Johnson’s design features low-level, yellowish light. The color is unlike the white light of the moon, which summons sea turtles to their aquatic home. Artificial white lighting close to the beach can confuse the turtles, luring them away from the water, with disastrous consequences. Johnson hopes that with his help, the city has set an example for all beach residents to use correct lighting for the benefit of the treasured ecosystem.
A member of the city’s Beach Management Committee, Johnson is committed to helping maintain a natural dune system to protect the beach from erosion. It’s another of his homegrown passions.
“By getting involved you learn about your community,” Johnson said. “You gain insight into what makes Indian Rocks Beach the unique place that it is.”
Deeply committed to his faith, Johnson supports the Tampa-based Construction for Worldwide Evangelism, which, among other things, builds churches in Caribbean nations. A few years ago the group took on a hospital expansion project in San Antonio, Brazil, a remote region of the Amazon 1,000 miles from the nearest road.
Johnson saw an opportunity to contribute his engineering skills, paying his own plane fare to travel to San Antonio to do site survey work and come up with the drawings necessary to pre-purchase building materials in faraway Manaus, Brazil. There are no hardware stores in San Antonio.
Over a one-year period that followed, Johnson sponsored three employees of his engineering company to work on the Brazilian hospital project, paying them to help with concrete and plumbing work.
He also has donated his design skills to projects at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg and Keswick Christian School.
Johnson and his wife, Betty, are members of First Christian Church of Seminole.
“The Lord has always been very important to me. The benefit to giving to the world is the opportunity to realize who Christ is,” he said. “I have a particular interest in using the talents God gave me to give back. I get a lot of enjoyment out of doing that.”