ADA Dale (Gaines) JOHNSON
ADA Dale (Gaines) JOHNSON
Ada Johnson was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1932, the third of eight girls. She attributes her success in life to her mother, Fannie Gaines, who encouraged all of the girls, a “mother and a half” who taught them all to sew, cook, manage their lives and to make something of themselves. Her father, Felix Benjamin Gaines, was an artist, and he has paintings and sketches today in museums in the South and in the Smithsonian. During the Depression, he was away from home a lot, hired through the WPA to paint murals on walls in communities throughout the South. She graduated from high school and Poro Beauty College in Birmingham, and she became a licensed beautician before marrying Marvin Dale and leaving Alabama with her first son, Larry, when she was twenty-one.
Marvin Dale was in the Air Force, and Johnson had the opportunity to travel with the Air Force to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, then to France, where her son Derrick was born, and then Phoenix, Arizona, where she went to Phoenix Junior College for her Licensed Practical Nurse Certification before moving to Anchorage, Alaska in 1963. Marva and Wanda were born in Anchorage before their parents divorced, and a family tragedy was the death at only a few days old of Marva’s twin brother. Johnson married a second time to Claude Johnson, the Recreation Director at API and had her last daughter, Clarissa.
Johnson describes her mother, Fannie Gaines, as someone with a personality that drew people in, and she thought that that rubbed off on her eight daughters, as well as being passed down to their children. Johnson was drawn to work and volunteer opportunities that had her helping people and serving the Lord. She began working as a Licensed Practical Nurse in 1963 at API, fulfilling on her life-long desire to work as a nurse. Working with the mentally ill was new to her, and she liked the work. She moved to work as a Correction Officer because it paid better, but she was in an environment of mostly retired military men who were sometimes threatened by her status with more state time. She was the first Black female who achieved the rank of Sergeant in Corrections, first at the Ridgeview Women’s Correctional Facility and later at the Highland Mountain Correctional Center in Eagle River. She was responsible for bringing in a prison ministry program before there was a counseling program in the prisons, which she accomplished by calling on area church ministers to participate.
When the Baptist Nursing Fellowship, of which Johnson was a member, asked for nurses to go on a medical mission to Brazil, she signed up, and later went to South Korea too. She was involved with missions for young people at church and served as the Sunday School Director and five years on the Board of Trustees, two as Chairperson, for New Hope Baptist Church. Church was always a part of her life as a child, and that continued throughout her life.
Johnson was a volunteer for Governor and Senator campaigns, assisted with health screenings in the Anchorage schools, and was Volunteer of the Year in 1990-91 at the Pioneer Home, where she provided services from 1985-1992. She was recognized by the YWCA as a “Woman of Achievement in 1994 and in the same year by Who’s Who in American Nursing. People were always important to Johnson, and being of service. She served on the Alaska Public Employees Association Board of Delegates from 1973-1987, is a Lifetime member of the NAACP, and has been a member of the Business & Professional Women’s Organization since 2002. In 2012, Johnson was one of 20 African-American women in Alaska who were recognized by the Ford Motor Company for promoting equality and rights of African-American women.
When Johnson saw mention of a woman in Michigan providing dresses for little girls in Africa who weren’t allowed to attend school because they didn’t have clothes, she responded, making 587 dresses to contribute to that non-profit, “Little Girl Dresses for Africa.” Alaska Senator Bettye Davis was a good friend and the first one to give her money to buy fabric, and others followed suit. When Franklin and Billy Graham called for another mission to provide toys for children through her church, Johnson responded again by hand-sewing 22 beautiful Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.