Joan Johnstone, 74, is the steady hand at Indian Rocks Beach City Hall. Residents say she is instrumental in making civic events happen.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – There are few beach communities that have more scheduled community events than Indian Rocks Beach. As a result, hundreds of volunteers are involved, and several organizations take the lead in staging the events.
Yet, ask anyone engaged in a community-wide event in IRB and they will say, “Without Joan Johnstone we could never have pulled this off.”
Johnstone is officially an administrative assistant at City Hall. She is the first face you see when you walk in. She is the first one to stand and greet you and offer you help. To her, that’s her job.
“I’m kind of a steady hand here because I’ve been here for so long,” she said. “If people need me to sell tickets or gather volunteers, I can do that.”
Volunteers to Johnstone are everything when it comes to making a community tick, and even though those volunteers quickly point to her as the driving force, she returns the compliment just as quickly.
“Volunteers are the backbone of this community,” she said. “If we didn’t have volunteers, we could not have the events, we just don’t have enough people working at the city to put it on. It is mostly the residents who do all the work on the day of an event, the city employees help get it going.”
Johnstone is 74 years old and has been working for the city of Indian Rocks Beach for 35 years. Her husband died three years ago, and they had been married for 50 years. She has four children and 11 grandchildren. You might think they would keep her busy, but she says her work is important to her.
“Actually, after my husband passed away, I was very happy to stay here at City Hall,” she said. “They said I could stay, so here I am.”
Among the events that Johnstone helps organize are the Beauty and the Beach festival, the pumpkin carving contest, the holiday parade, the boat parade and the tree lighting ceremony. Those are the official events, but she’s involved in many others organized by various community groups. She says she could not do it alone.
“Here at City Hall, Randy Schwab and I do the city events,” she said. “We work hand in hand, so it all comes together.”
Schwab, the city’s public services supervisor, has nothing but praise for his colleague.
“She is really out there to help and get things done,” he said. “Give her an assignment and she goes and rolls with it. She is here to make the residents feel wanted and that makes the job easier for me. Without her I’d be in deep trouble.”
Schwab pointed out that in the past, Johnstone has worked with the now defunct IRB Civic Association and the Action 2000 community group and has helped them plan and organize various events.
The vice-president of the current IRB Homeowners Association and perpetual volunteer, Phil Wrobel, agrees Johnstone contributes a lot to the city.
“She does a lot of extra things; she does a lot for the city. She pushed for me to be Grand Marshall of the parade so I think she’s a wonderful lady,” he said laughing. “I just volunteer here or there, but she’s always involved.”
When you are Joan Johnstone, life never seems to slow down. Already she is working on the next event.
“We’ve already started working on Beauty and the Beach on the first Saturday in April,” she said. “As I said, Randy and I work together getting notices out, getting the bands, and the little kids’ pageant and the sand castle contest.”
Johnstone was one of the people who started the Gulfside Gala, the 5K race, held on the morning of the Beauty and the Beach. She was active in the old Civic Association then and remembers it fondly.
“It is kind of cool to see it still going, and every once in a while I run in it but not all the time,” she said.
She may be the “go-to” person at City Hall for community leaders, but Johnstone says she couldn’t do it without good support from her office.
“Chuck Coward is the 10th city manager that I have worked for,” she said. “Every time a new city manager comes along, things change. Now that Chuck is here, we’ve become an easy-going city again. Chuck is really good. I am really happy with the way it is today. We have a very good staff and everybody works together.”
Johnstone says if she ever retires, she’d like to do a lot of travelling and get more involved in the Florida Women in Government organization. But she says retirement is not on the radar yet, anyway.
“I am going to stay as long as I’m healthy,” she said.
The reason for that determination is because of the residents of the city of Indian Rocks Beach. People, she says, who make it easy for her to do her job.
“The people in this city are nice people and they make me feel good because that’s what I do here,” she said. “I have so many friends here in Indian Rocks Beach. At one time, I thought I might leave, but I couldn’t do it. It is my life. I’m good to them and they are good to me.”