Johnson still loves working with marching band after 35 years

Rose Johnson (right) marches in front of the Pride of All Nebraska with former band director Jay Clecker (left).

Rose Johnson (right) marches in front of the Pride of All Nebraska with former band director Jay Clecker (left).

Rose Johnson graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1978 and decided to stick around … for a long time.

She took a job with the UNL band program a month after her graduation. Now she serves as the administrative technician for the program, and has loved every minute of her extensive UNL career.

“It really is the people, because they’re so talented, in the first place, but also really nice people and very easy to work with, and a lot of fun, both the students and the faculty,” Johnson said.

Johnson has worked for the university for almost 35 years now. In that time, she’s seen countless bowl games, three national championships, worked with four head coaches and eight different band directors. But of all the changes she’s seen, the one she’s been most thankful for is the way the band program communicates.

If there’s a cancellation now, the band staff doesn’t have to physically call every single member of the 350+ person ensemble.

“I remember back in the early 90s, we were supposed to leave to go to a Citrus Bowl, and we had an ice storm that day, which closed the airport,” Johnson said. “So the only way that we could get ahold of anybody was to send people to the office and use every phone we had access to, to call every person who was supposed to go on the trip and tell them not to come. Now we Tweet it. It was kind of a nightmare.”

While that experience was less than pleasant, Johnson’s scariest memory of the band program occurred in 1983 at the Orange Bowl, the one Nebraska lost to Miami on a last second two-point conversion attempt.

“The Miami fans were quite violent and kept throwing things at the band, and so we had a very difficult time in the stadium,” Johnson said. “After they won, they surged down on to the field and toward us.”

In order to get to the busses afterward, three rings of police officers escorted the band out; one ring had shields and batons and another ring mounted on horses to ensure the band’s safety.

“It was scary. We were lucky that I had a buddy in the Florida State Patrol,” Johnson said.

Not every memory was negative, though. It would be almost impossible to have a negative memory of a national championship victory, of which Johnson got to see three. Her favorite championship memory happened at the 1994 game.

“We were behind and struggling in the first half, but we just kept working and working,” Johnson said. “We finally succeeded and they did the trophy presentation and everything, and then the team came out and they threw their jerseys up into the band. It was kind of like the two groups had worked together through the whole thing to try and keep the fans in the game.”

Johnson’s time at the university has been fun, and she said she loves being a part of the creative process. But the impact that she’s had on the school of music is almost even more noteworthy, according to those that have worked with her.

“We get along really well. I think we’re almost like sisters, sometimes,” Jan Deaton, Johnson’s co-worker in the band office said. “I’ve never woken up in the morning and dreaded going to work, and I think that’s a real blessing.”

Jan has worked with Johnson for 10 years, and the two have never had a dull day.

“She’s always good for a story,” Deaton said.

Johnson has also had a positive impact on the students that she’s worked with over the years. Somehow in the middle of coordinating students, making sure they show up on time and making sure they have a good experience, she manages to have enough time to touch the lives of students, too.

“Everybody has a good relationship with her. There’s always alums coming back, saying ‘Oh I wanted to say hi to Rose!’ and most of the time I don’t even know who they are,” Deaton said.

Aside from the insanity that is working with college kids every day for almost 35 years, Johnson wouldn’t trade her job for the world.

“I think the best part of it is that I get to be a part of a creative process, even though I’m not the artist. I think that is an extraordinary experience. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a very enriching way to spend one’s life.”

Rose Johnson sits at her desk in Westbrook Music Building.

Rose Johnson sits at her desk in Westbrook Music Building.

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