2017-12-27 / Front Page

Art Johnson retiring as Main Street Millen Manager

By Deborah Bennett
Millen News editor


From left, Jane Johnson and Art Johnson, Main Street Millen Manager, are shown placing QR Code decals on a historic building that will allow visitors to “swipe” their smart phones over the code and see a photo of the building and read historic information on it. 
(Photo contributed) From left, Jane Johnson and Art Johnson, Main Street Millen Manager, are shown placing QR Code decals on a historic building that will allow visitors to “swipe” their smart phones over the code and see a photo of the building and read historic information on it. (Photo contributed) The word “retirement” is a word with which Art Johnson is not familiar. She knows the meaning, but just can’t seem to practice the principle. Art will “retire” December 31st as Manager of Main Street Millen (MSM) after 16 years of service with the non-profit organization.

However, this is not the first time Art has “retired.” Her first experience with the word came after completion of 30 years in the field of Education. It was that “retirement” that eventually led to her association with Millen Better Hometown in 2001, the predecessor of MSM Millen.

Through association with the Chamber of Commerce Art brought the idea of Millen becoming a Better Hometown to Millen City Council and volunteered as Manager for two years after the city received the designation by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

“It just happened that I wrote the application and when Millen was designated as a Better Hometown, everyone looked to me. It just fell in my lap,” Art said.

When it was determined that a paid, part-time manager was needed to fulfill the guidelines for the designation, Art was put on the payroll by the City of Millen. The organization became MSM in 2013 due to the merger of the Better Hometown and Main Street programs by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Though it was not a MSM project, Art considers the receipt of the first Transportation Enhancement (TE) Grant by the City of Millen as the one thing that has made the most difference in the appearance of Millen. Her role in the grant was that she and Paula Herrington, the Chamber director in 2005, approached then Mayor Robert Fields and requested that the City apply for the TE Grant. The grant funds were used to transform the appearance of Cotton Avenue in downtown Millen. Since that time the City has received additional TE Grants for improvements to the downtown area.

Projects MSM has been associated with under Art’s leadership, include: designation of the Jenkins County Scenic By-way, construction of the Train Viewing Platform on Cotton Avenue, development of a bike trail to Magnolia Springs State Park, Welcome to Millen signs, the GDOT Gateway Grant for landscaping the corners at the intersection of Highway 25 and 17, the marquee restoration at Pal Theater, benches and trash cans on Cotton Avenue, and improvements at Millen Community House.

Annual events sponsored by MSM include: the Cotton Market Park produce market, Keep Jenkins Beautiful campaign, Easter Egg Hunt, Patriotic Celebration, Fair-onthe Square, Harvest of Fun, Small Business Saturday, and numerous plays, performances, and movies. Since 2012 Main Street Millen has published a monthly e-newsletter to promote events and businesses in Millen..

A major focus of MSM has been historic preservation. A popular historic preservation project has been the annual 5th Grade Tour of Cotton Avenue. During May, Historic Preservation Month, MSM has published pictures and descriptions of Millen’s and Jenkins County’s old buildings on Facebook to help build awareness of and appreciation for the history of our city and County. One project just completed that Art is especially proud of is the preservation of the history of forty of Millen’s historic buildings on the Jenkins County website at jenkinscountyga.gov. From the website visitors can select City of Millen and then Main Street Millen to see them. In coordination with website pictures and info, QR Code decals have been placed on each of the buildings that will allow visitors to “swipe” their smart phones over the QR code and see a photo of the building and read historic information on each.

“These buildings are the heart of the community and should be preserved,” Art said.

MSM is currently involved with the City of Millen in applying for a Redevelopment Grant to secure funds to preserve the building known as “Mills Drug Store.” Another history related project is the mural that is in progress on the side of Elegant Nails. The completed project will focus on the railroad history of Millen.

Art contributes much of the success of the organization to numerous volunteers throughout the years.

“We have always had 20-30 volunteers since the organization began. It has not always been the same group, but we have always had a large group of committed and generous volunteers. Without them, the organization could not have accomplished what it has,” she said. “The community has contributed a lot also. Individuals, businesses, churches, and the city and county governments have been very supportive.”

As for “retirement”, Art said she is looking forward to working in her home and yard and remaining active in the Millen Garden Club, her bridge club, Millen Rotary Club and renewing her membership in Friends of Magnolia..

“Retirement” it seems, is a word that Art just can’t practice!

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