As a high school student in Watertown, Charlotte Johnson said there were two predominant cliques at that time: the city kids and the farm kids.
As somebody who lived on a farm, but had also lived in the city when her family first moved to Watertown when she was 7 years old, Johnson said she had friends in both groups. Johnson said she has carried those same inclusive values with her throughout her life, and said she believes that will be a big part of what defines her as the city’s mayor after being sworn into office on Tuesday, Jan. 8.
“I guess that’s the way I’ve ended up being,” Johnson said of her ability to socialize and get along with just about anybody. “I’m with everyone. I believe so strongly in inclusiveness that everyone is important to me.”
In her first week as Watertown’s mayor, Johnson, who left the city after graduating high school but returned in 2004 after retirement, cites numerous things she’d like to accomplish as mayor. Most of her aims center on growth within the city, both commercially and residentially.
Johnson said the city needs to draw more families, more stores and more industries in order to expand the city’s tax base. And the best way to do that, she said, is to make more people aware of what Watertown has to offer. Through her inclusive mentality, Johnson hopes to spur more community involvement among residents, something that she believes will lead to more civic pride and a sense of ownership in the community.
But, Johnson says, the most important thing isn’t that Watertown residents realize what a great community it is, but rather, that other people in the metro area do as well. That’s something Johnson doesn’t think has always been the case.
“We need to promote Watertown,” Johnson said. “When you say you live in Watertown, people will say, ‘Oh, Watertown, S.D.?’ Or they will say, ‘You mean Waterville?’ They don’t have a clue there’s a Watertown, Minn.”
Promoting everything local has been a theme for Johnson throughout her life, and not just in Watertown. While Johnson lived in Moorhead, where she taught at the technical college for 35 years, she was also recruited by the school district to help promote the local schools, and put the district back in a positive light with local residents after a near strike among teachers.
After retiring and moving to Glenville with her husband, where they lived for six years before coming back to Watertown, Johnson also established a Glenville Beautification Committee in response to what Johnson said was a deteriorating downtown area. When much of downtown was destroyed by a tornado in 2001, Johnson chaired the recovery effort, helping to rebuild and reinvigorate the city. Johnson said she wanted to help make the city something the residents could be proud of, and that’s the same goal she has in Watertown.
“I want people to be excited about living in Watertown,” Johnson said. “I want them to be proud that they live in Watertown. I want them to talk about and promote Watertown. I’d love to have people collaborate, and I think that’s beginning to happen already.”
Johnson’s primary focus is to promote local businesses and to attract new ones to the city. She said she intends to begin visiting local businesses soon, along with city staff and the chamber of commerce, to seek input on how the city can best work with and assist local businesses. Johnson has a strong history in promoting local business, having worked with the chamber of commerce in Moorhead and presenting workshops to business leaders at North Dakota State University, as well as presenting workshops for several important companies in that area.
With a strong educational background, Johnson also hopes to work closely with the Watertown-Mayer School District. After graduating from the College of St. Benedict, Johnson spent about 4 years teaching at several Catholic schools in the Minneapolis area, then about four more years teaching homebound education in Duluth before spending 35 years teaching at the technical college in Moorhead.
Johnson said she hopes to work closely with local school administrators to learn how the district and the city can best work together, because she knows firsthand how a strong educational system can benefit a city, particularly in terms of drawing families to town.
Destined to lead
For those that new Johnson as a youngster, it should be little surprise that she spent much of her life in leadership roles. Johnson, a self-described tomboy who grew up playing football and softball, says she always planned to become the first female pitcher for the New York Yankees.
That didn’t work out so well, but she says a teacher told her mom when she was in grade school back in Montgomery, Minn., that she was destined to be a leader. The reason? Johnson used to organize her classmates into a pretend band, and Johnson always was the band leader.
Upon moving to Watertown at the age of 7, Johnson and her family first lived above what is now Watertown Floral on Lewis Avenue. She recalls the downtown business people being among her regular friends, and says it wasn’t uncommon for kids in the area to visit with store owners, who would often give them candy.
Before eventually moving to a farm, Johnson’s family first moved to a home on Westminster Avenue. Today, she and her husband, Nate, live in a home just three houses down from that childhood home.
Though Johnson actually has spent much of her life away from Watertown, she says she came back to visit often, and was always aware of what was going on in town because her sister lived here most of her life. Johnson, the current president of the Watertown Area Historical Society, has also written the extensive history of Watertown. She said the town’s rich history is one of the things she loves most about the city.
“We have a very impressive history of outstanding people in Watertown,” she said.
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]