Johnson family builds community for future generations

Marilyn Mohney, daughter of Jesse Johnson and Marjorie Campbell Johnson, shares a vintage photo of her parents and fond family memories at the Seminole Historical Society’s program at the community library.

SEMINOLE — Marilyn Mohney, the daughter of Seminole founder Jesse Johnson and Marjorie Campbell Johnson, remembers the city’s incorporation well.

The maternal side of her family dates to 1863 when there weren’t many people living there. Eventually, Jesse moved to the area and met Marjorie. After they wed, they moved north in 1925 so he could attend the University of Florida. After that, they spent some time in Winter Garden, where he worked for a nursery. In 1929, the couple returned to Seminole after Marjorie’s parents offered land to each of their children.

Jesse was considered a community leader and visionary who made the city what it is today. He was a businessman who founded Seminole Nurseries as well as Sylvan Abbey Memorial Park and Sarasota Memorial Park. He was active in Seminole Methodist Church, serving on various committees and founded the Seminole chapter of the Kiwanis Club in his living room. Jesse also helped create the Seminole Mall.

The most important thing he did, though, was to lead the push to incorporate the city in 1970.

The movement started years earlier, in the early 1960s. Votes to form a city had actually failed a couple of times, because some residents in the area were worried about paying taxes, Mohney said. “Most people thought it was going to cost us so much money to be incorporated. They just didn’t want to be incorporated.”

Despite this, Jesse, his friends and fellow organizers had a vision for Seminole. So, they kept planning in secret. They held covert meetings at locations throughout the area, including Seminole Nursery and rooms at Seminole Village Motel and Mobile Home Park, which Mohney owned and operated with her husband, Gene.

“We were anxious to get it done,” she said. She was confident it would happen, eventually.

And “the time was right” on Nov. 15, 1970, when the first 800 or so residents voted to incorporate, Mohney said.

Everyone was excited about the incorporation. When it came time to name Seminole’s first mayor, Jesse was an obvious choice.

“But Daddy didn’t want to be mayor,” she said. “He was too quiet and reserved for that. He just wanted to help people.”

That’s how Jesse became known as the city’s first honorary mayor and the behind-the-scenes driving force of Seminole.

Looking back on the city’s formation 50 years later, Mohney is proud of the role her family played in the events that led to Seminole’s incorporation.

“I think about how it’s grown and how there are people that decided, well, OK, we’ll come into the city, even though at first we had a lot had opposition to it,” she said. “And I think it’s been a nice close-knit community, and still is. I’m just so glad that we did incorporate.”