Davidson resident Bill Johnson retired as the executive director of the Ada Jenkins Center late in 2007, but his community involvement in this Lake Norman town would rival anyone's full-time employment schedule.
One political seat and several board positions later, he's embarking on his latest adventure as a national facilitator for YMCA-USA, the Chicago-based organization that provides support to YMCAs across the United States.
"Teaching has always been something I've wanted to do and now I have that opportunity," Johnson says of his latest endeavor. "The best part of it is that I'm teaching people the relationship skills necessary to embody the mission of YMCAs, which I think have a terrific mission."
Johnson somewhat marvels at what he's up to now, given that eight short years ago, he and his wife were living a quite different life in Florida.
Johnson, 67, and his wife relocated to Davidson in 2001 when Johnson retired from hospital administration in the Fort Myers area of Florida. With no family in North Carolina, they happened upon Davidson as an option for a retirement location while visiting friends in Charlotte.
"We knew we wanted to retire to North Carolina because we had vacationed here; we just weren't sure where we wanted to be within the state," Johnson said.
After friends suggested the Lake Norman area, Johnson and his wife of 36 years, Karen, were drawn to the pace of life in this small town.
"Coming from Fort Myers, where it was always booming and growing, you just couldn't catch a breath," Johnson said. "Davidson really allows you to slow down, and that's the pace we were looking for."
Johnson believes that communities like Davidson thrive because the residents are like-minded about what community means.
"I think the residents of Davidson have great values about living - diversity, nature, embracing community, smart growth and truly getting to know your neighbors," Johnson said.
He isn't old-fashioned, but Johnson does think there's an inherent value in living in a community that enables people to connect directly, without computers. As he makes this comment, he is greeted by a Davidson College student who knows him by name.
Preserving the spirit of Davidson is in part what drove Johnson to run in 2007 for town commissioner, a position that enabled him to serve the residents of the community and help to establish the ongoing parameters by which Davidson would meet future challenges.
"I wasn't sure I was up for the task and I was also just retiring from my position at Ada Jenkins, but after speaking to neighbors, Mayor Woods, other commissioners, I realized that there wasn't a good reason not to go for it," Johnson said.
As most people in small towns will note, change and growth are the two biggest obstacles that lie ahead. But Johnson thinks this could also be a opportunity for Davidson.
"We have to be smart about our growth, and that will be challenging," he said. "It is tough to find the right balance of encouraging growth while at the same time being particular about the type of growth you are allowing."
Johnson said that part of Davidson's long-term vision is to create more residential density around the Main Street area to support the businesses of Davidson and to build pockets of commercial areas that will not ultimately detract focus from downtown.
Johnson believes his contributions during his tenure as town commissioner helped to stay the course that was put into place decades ago by Davidson's early leaders.
"Historically, the leaders have done a good job charting the course for smart growth, even if it was met with some resistance," he said. "We have to continue to elect people who will maintain those plans."
Johnson's perspective as town commissioner not only was informed by his opinions as a resident, but also by his firsthand experience with the pockets of poverty that exist in all parts of the Lake Norman area. As executive director at Ada Jenkins, Johnson said that he came to understand poverty in a completely different way.
"We saw a dramatic shift as North Carolina transitioned from manufacturing-based jobs to knowledge- and idea-based jobs, and there were large groups of people who were left behind in this process," said Johnson, who noted that many people assumed the Lake Norman area may have somehow been immune to these problems. "I was surprised to see the effects of a statewide phenomenon hit our specific region."
Johnson says he believes education is the link that can help people make the jump when industry shifts, but he found at Ada Jenkins that the generational cycle of poverty was hard to tackle with educational programming alone.
"Ideally, I wish there was a way to break the chain of this cycle so that the people at the bottom can start off in a better spot," Johnson said. "The cycle continues to repeat itself because either the people experiencing the problem can't see the solution, or they can't access the solution."
Johnson believes he has retired from both Ada Jenkins and his role as town commissioner with a greater appreciation for what it means to be a community - and he continues to be proud of all of the churches, clubs, sporting groups and neighborhoods coming together to contribute to Davidson, and solve it's challenges.