Arlene Johns, editor of Johnstown Magazine, is retiring
Jun.2 – Arlene Johns’ life was at a crossroads when she saw a job posting for a Tribune Democrat telemarketer in 1989.
She was a struggling single mother with two young children and no experience in marketing — let alone print media.
But like a tenacious journalist in search of a story, she called the human resources department day after day.
“I kept saying, ‘Just give me a week’s work,'” Johns said. “’I’m going to prove myself.’ “
Over the next 33 years, Johns would end up doing this in almost every corner of The Tribune-Democrat building in downtown Johnstown.
Over the years, she worked her way through the newsroom and rose through the ranks of the department – becoming archivist, press assistant and eventually city editor before taking the reins as editor of the Johnstown magazine in 2013.
“When I started, I didn’t have a journalism background,” Johns said Wednesday, “but every time I changed jobs, I learned something different. How to write a story, how to put in page a newspaper and work with staff to ensure the next edition is the best it can be.
“Every move I’ve made has led to something else – and I see the hand of God involved in that to prepare me for this day,” she added, “because at the time…I didn’t never imagined that I would be the editor of a magazine.”
Johns is ending that career next month. Woman Nanty Glo is retiring from business on July 1.
“At the service of readers”
But Johns said she has no plans to slow down — or stop shining a spotlight on the community.
“I really came to love Johnstown,” the Indiana County native said. “It may be partly my love for underdogs, but this city has taken so many beatings over the years and has always found a way to bounce back, and I see that happening today thanks to the incredible efforts of so many people in our community.”
Tribune-Democrat editor Chip Minemyer said Johns’ commitment to her work and the community was what made her a strong leader throughout her career.
“Arlene has been a dedicated and passionate journalist in the Johnstown area for many years, serving readers in various capacities – as writer, editor, manager,” Minemyer said. “She has been a leader in some of our most important work – including books to capture the beautiful architecture of our local churches and to honor the history of the passengers and crew of Flight 93.”
Minemyer said efforts were underway to find the magazine’s next editor. But Johns’ signature will likely continue to appear in its glossy pages from time to time.
Editor Robert Forcey credited Johns for his ability to capture and add to the “local flavor” of the community through monthly publishing.
“Through Johnstown Magazine, Arlene has kept our community focused on the most positive stories from our neighbors and our community while continuing to add local flavor to our town,” Forcey said. “Arlene will surely be missed as we move forward, but she has already volunteered to help us with some of her favorite projects, so we will always have her help as we enter a new era for Johnstown Magazine.”
“It was an honor”
Johns was in the newsroom during The Tribune-Democrat’s coverage of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
She cited those uncertain and heartbreaking days as among her most memorable.
That morning began with blue skies over Johnstown, an attack on the World Trade Center and calls for an unfounded bomb threat at Johnstown Airport, she recalls.
It turned out that airport staff and nearby military personnel were all trying to make sure the location was ready for the possibility that United Airlines Flight 93 might fly over or land there. .
By the time the world learned that the plane had crashed into a reclaimed strip mine near Shanksville, Johns was directing reporters to the scene and finding ways to document the shocked community’s response.
“Interviewing the families (of Flight 93 passengers and crew) is something I will never forget,” she said, “because for most people it was a global event. For them, it was personal – and it was an honor to tell their stories.”
Listening to heartfelt stories from everyday people, including breast cancer survivors, was also an unforgettable experience, she said.
As a magazine editor, Johns cited a two-part story with Joyce Murtha – the wife of the late U.S. Representative John Murtha – and special covers re-enacting unforgettable Hollywood scenes among his career highlights.
A scene featuring WJAC-TV’s Tim Rigby and current Cambria Regional Chamber Speaker Amy Bradley paying tribute to “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a favorite. A nod to “A Christmas Story” also ranks among the most memorable.
“Being editor-in-chief has been a privilege,” she said, “and I hope I have had an impact through the magazine.”
Johns and her husband, Joe, live in the Nanty Glo area.
But she said she wanted to stay a part of Johnstown by finding new ways to promote positive events in the area.
She hopes she can move from telling these stories as an editor and writer to being part of the effort on a “hands-on” level.
“I told Carlynn Toth I was going to be there helping her clean up Central Park,” she said of the Ogletown woman who has volunteered time over the past decade to beautify the town square. “If I could be an ambassador who walked around talking about Johnstown and pulling weeds all day, I would.
“Whether it’s volunteering or part-time work in the city,” she said, “I just want to get involved.”
David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.