Former Windsor music teacher turning 100 on Saturday

Published 9:37 am Friday, April 1, 2011


WINDSOR—Regena Johnson says her 100th birthday on Saturday, April 2, will be just another day for her.

But the Windsor woman’s friends — and there are many — can’t let this milestone pass without recognizing her many contributions to the community, especially in the music world.

Johnson will be honored at a reception from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Windsor Community Building.

“No one deserves this more than Mrs. Johnson,” said co-hostess Nola Mumford, a longtime friend and former music student. “She has taught more students how to play the piano than anyone knows.”

A 1932 graduate of the University of Cincinnati with a degree in music, Johnson came to Virginia the year music was introduced into the public schools. She was the first music teacher at Cypress Chapel High School near Suffolk in 1933 and taught there until about 1940.

In 1941, she married Dunston “Dunny” Johnson, a lawyer.

She smiled as she talked about how they met.

“We met on a blind date,” Johnson said. “My roommate at Cypress Chapel introduced me to him, and we hit it off right away.”

After marrying, the couple moved to his hometown of Windsor, where she taught students in her home until she retired just before her husband died in 1988. Her husband served as Isle of Wight County’s commonwealth’s attorney for 32 years.

The Johnsons settled near the home of her husband’s mother.

Johnson has been interested in music as long as she can remember. Growing up in the Shenandoah Valley, she played violin as a child before taking up the piano. She belonged to the Shenandoah High School Band and has a picture of herself as a drum major.

“When I entered college, though, my major was voice, although I could play several instruments,” Johnson said.

Speaking from her home on Duke Street, where the walls are covered with diplomas and awards for her musical talent, Johnson reminisced about her life.

“I have had a good life and I enjoyed it,” she said.

As her business grew, so did her interests. She was choir director and pianist at Windsor Baptist Church for 47 years. Johnson also joined the Windsor Woman’s Club, where she served as president and vice president. She is now an honorary member.

Johnson is a member of the Eastern Star, has been a deaconess at Windsor Baptist and served as the town’s Girl Scout leader.

After her husband passed away, she was at a loss. So Johnson decided to travel, something she did not do much of because of her husband’s work.

“I’ve been from one end of the United States to the other,” she said, adding she’s also been to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Alaska.

She remembers Australia vividly.

“That’s where I rode a camel, and this was the first time in my life I ever wore slacks,” Johnson said.

Today it is hard to find anyone in the Isle of Wight area who does not know about Johnson’s music teaching career, said Richard Holland, president of Farmers Bank in Windsor.

“Through the years, she has taught hundreds and hundreds of students, not only how to play piano but how to play the organ, in addition to giving voice lessons,” Holland said. “Mrs. Johnson is a very special person. She has class; I’ve never seen her when she wasn’t dressed up, so to speak. She is a lady in all respects.”

Holland, who represents the third generation from his family at Farmers Bank, said the Johnson family has dealt with his bank since his grandfather was there. Both were community-minded. They gave back as much as they were given.

“Mrs. Johnson had a beautiful voice, and she was always willing to sing at various community events,” Holland said.

Johnson adored her husband.

“I think she built her life around him” Holland said. “That isn’t to say that she was not independent, however. She could take care of herself.”

Johnson was a wonderful teacher.

“She devoted a lot of time to each individual, first developing the student, then teaching them music,” Holland said. “She taught one of my daughters piano. My other four children were not interested in music.”

Mumford and her daughter, who were both students of Johnson, said she also taught manners.

“She stressed correct posture when you were at the piano, presenting yourself with dignity, things like that,” said Mumford, a Windsor beauty salon owner who has been styling Johnson’s hair since 1971.

“She is one of my best friends,” Mumford said.

Johnson lived alone until nine years ago, said her caregiver, Gloria Barnett.

“Then I stayed during the day, but she spent nights by herself,” Barnett said. “She was rarely sick, and was able to care for herself, except when she had a hip replacement and a bout with pneumonia several years ago.”

“But she had a gallbladder attack during the night about six months ago, so the decision was made then for her to have 24-hour care,” Barnett continued.

Barnett and the other co-hostess for the birthday party are amazed at Johnson’s determination.

“This little lady never gives up,” Barnett said. “We take rides through the country some afternoons, and she always gets her hair done. She gets her nails done, and her podiatrist is giving her a free pedicure for her 100th birthday.”

“She has had an amazing and interesting life, and I really enjoy hearing about the things she’s done,” Mumford added. “She told me once that the only thing she regretted was that she never learned to pilot an airplane.”