One Person Can Make a Difference

Willie & Martin Johnson

Willie & Martin Johnson

Family Legacies

Final post from stories my daddy recorded of his years of growing up in the Depression and the early years of World War II.

“When we left farm life in western Kentucky, my daddy worked at an ammunition plant and my oldest brother left for the army and fought in Europe after D-Day.

In 1941 I was 13 years old, and Mama carried me to Paducah to see some doctors who came from Louisville, KY. I had injured my knee which left me almost crippled. After a doctor examined my knee he said surgery could correct my problem. The doctors and Mama worked out the arrangements and before I knew what was happening I was on a train by myself to Louisville, KY.

That trip held many “firsts” for me. I had never been anywhere away from home, never even spent the night away from home. They put me on a train in Paducah — I’d never been on a train! Mama and Daddy could not go – they didn’t have the money to go and no money to pay for a place to stay. I would go to Louisville; someone would meet me at the train and take me to the hospital.  I had never even been inside a hospital. I can remember that trip as if it were yesterday, the trip, the hospital, even the name of the doctor.”

1937 Kosair Hospital dining room

1937 Kosair Hospital dining room

Boys Ward 1927, Kosair Hospital

Boys Ward 1927, Kosair Hospital

“The Crippled Children’s Society provided free care for children at the Kosair Hospital in Louisville. I had surgery on my knee by Dr. Miller; he took out the damaged cartilage. Then they put me on the train to return home. That was a major trauma for me. 

A Life-Changing Opportunity

I missed a lot of school because of my surgery and recovery. By the time I was walking on my leg without using a cane or a special built shoe, we were going to Church of Christ in Lone Oak, KY. I was baptized when I was about 15. A man in the church who was a good friend of my daddy and a good friend to me took an interest in my education. His name was Jesse McIntyre; he talked to me about going off to school. I’d missed a couple of years of school, and he believed the Rehabilitation Dept. of Kentucky would pay a portion of tuition at a private school. Another man who was head of Rehab in our area also took a special interest in me. They worked out a way for me to enroll in David Lipscomb High School, in Nashville, TN. Rehab would pay the cost of books and tuition. I’d have to work on campus to pay for room and board. And that’s just what I did and was paid tremendous amount of 25 cents an hour! That’s the way I got what little education I have.”

The high school was on the same campus as the college and was quite small compared to today. The senior class had less than 30 students, and the other classes were just as small.

1946 Yearbook Picture

1946 Yearbook Picture

Only a few students boarded so the high school students lived in the college dorms. Sometime during his time at Lipscomb Daddy decided to become a gospel preacher. One of his many jobs was preaching at small nearby churches.

He would take a train from Nashville to towns in western Kentucky, but he had to pay for his own ticket. He would hock my watch at a local pawn shop to buy a train ticket, and when he was paid for preaching he’d use that money to get his watch out of the pawn shop. He followed that process many times while he was at Lipscomb.


1946 Yearbook picture

“I met Martin Stephens when we were both working as telephone exchange operators, and a whole new world began. We had dates at the movies and then went to the chocolate shop for a soda.”

By May of 1946 they were engaged and married in August of the same year in Bowling Green, KY. They spent one night in Paducah at the Irvin Cobb Hotel and left the next day for a preaching appointment in Wingo, KY. The Broadway Church of Christ in Paducah supported the young couple in the little town of Harrisburg, Illinois. I was born a year later in the same town.

Daddy, Mama, and me, 1947

Daddy, Mama, and me, 1947

Through the interest of one man in Daddy’s education, he became a student at a Christian school in Nashville, met the love of his life, and began a 38 year career in preaching at the young age of 18.

Many joys to count from this story!

  • thankful for the strong family unit that began at David Lipscomb.
  • thankful for the opportunity Daddy and Mama had to go to school.
  • grateful for their servant leadership in many small churches.
  • joyful for Jesse McIntyre’s interest and know-how to help Daddy go to school
  • grateful for the Kosair Hospital and its long history of helping children



2 thoughts on “One Person Can Make a Difference

  1. Belinda Miller

    It’s a small world, Martell. I never knew or remembered anyway your connection with Lone Oak Church of Christ, Paducah, Ky. My mom’s only sister lived in Paducah, KY, and attended Lone Oak with her family. My cousin, one of her sons, is still an elder at Lone Oak.


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