15 Minutes: Longtime resident says humor is the best medicine in retirement
Jan Johnson has been a South Shore resident for nearly 50 years. She is a retired plumbing contractor and lives at Gardner Mountain.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Los Angeles, on Dec. 6, 1924, which makes me 80. I was raised in Sacramento. My dad, Ray L. Johnson, built cemeteries all over the West and Midwest and my mom established hair salons.
Our family traveled a lot. I went to Sacramento High School and then Sacramento College. I wanted to study aviation and become a pilot but my mother called me and asked me to help her with her business and that’s what I did.
Did you ever become a pilot?
I never got my license, but I found other ways of flying. I loved to drive. I’d drive everywhere, from Chicago to California, nonstop. I wouldn’t even sleep. Every time I got behind the wheel, I would just go, go, go until I reached the destination, only stopping to fill up the gas tank.
What brought you to Lake Tahoe?
I was in Cuba with my father and mother when my sister called and said that she was going to Japan with her husband in the Navy and would I mind coming to Nevada to take care of her home in Fallon. I said sure, I’d come up for a while. It turns out they were also building a home in Tahoe and I came to Tahoe to stay there. That’s when I met my husband, Russ McGee, and we got married.
Do you have any children?
Yes, I have a son, Tod. He lives in Scotts Valley above Santa Cruz. I’m really proud of him. He’s made quite a life for himself.
What was your first thought when you saw the lake for the first time?
Well, the first time, I was pretty young. I came up with my parents. But when I came up here in the early ’50s, I thought, this is beautiful.
What is your favorite season of the year?
Definitely summer. I’m the sunshine kid. I love the sun.
How did you become a plumbing contractor?
My husband Russ McGee was a contractor and that’s how I got into it. I had an partner who was an electrical contractor, and there was always plenty of work around here and down in the valley.
You’ve been here for around 50 years. Has the South Shore changed for the better or for the worse?
Too many people are moving away because they can’t afford it, and the wages people pay workers here are terrible. It is a shame, because it used to be paradise here for regular people. Now all the families are leaving.
When did you retire?
About 20 years ago. I like to fiddle-faddle around. I’ve got great friends. We play cards.
What’s the best part of your day?
The whole damn day. I don’t put breakfast over dinner. I’ve been very, very fortunate and happy and have been blessed with a sense of humor my mother gave me. I never get depressed. It’s a damn waste of time to be depressed.
Do you still like all the snow we get in winter?
Oh, one day out of the year, after the first snow I usually look at it and think ‘Well, this is pretty.’ And after the second day I’m bored with it and wait for the sun.
Do you ever get tired of shoveling?
I have some fellas come and do the driveway for me now. The thing about getting old is you can have fellas come and shovel your walk for you when you want to. When you’re young you just do it.
Do you have any advice for someone who intends on staying here for the rest of their lives?
Relax. Be happy. Go with the flow. If you’re not happy or enjoying this and what we have, get off the hill. It’s that simple.
What’s your secret to longevity?
Don’t fight it, be happy. Give yourself something to laugh about. I have a fluff ball of a dog. She’s a stubborn little wench but I find myself laughing at her every day.
What is your guiding philosophy on life and living?
Be a giver. And when you give, give candy. Try your best to make people laugh.