Wendell was interviewed in 1983 by the KSL channel 5 news team in Utah. The following interview was broadcast on television during the evening news.
PRIME TIME ACCESS
Interview with Wendell Johnson
Aired: December 6, 1983
Bruce Lindsay: The man you are about to meet unquestionably is a remarkable mayor, a remarkable man who has decided that in spite of an accident that left him with a severe disability, he won’t take life lying down. Keith McCord reports:
Keith McCord: Thirty-seven year old Wendell Johnson lives in Mapleton with his wife and six year old daughter. Twenty-one years ago, he and some buddies were cooling off by diving into a canal near his home. It was then when his life took a dramatic change.
Wendell Johnson, Mapleton Mayor: I slipped and instead of arching out into the water, which was safe, I went straight down and hit into about twelve inches of water and immediately, the spinal cord was severed. The accident left me completely paralyzed at the time.
Keith McCord: Paralyzed from the neck down. And it took him nearly a year to be able to get any kind of muscle movement in the left arm, and from there he began rehabilitation in California. It was at that time and it was seeing others experiencing the same feelings that he was that Johnson made up his mind on how he would proceed with his life.
Wendell Johnson: People were either giving up and becoming very embittered, or they were realizing that they had something left; Life was not over, and they had to make up their mind what they were going to do with it. It was about that time that I realized that I had to find something to fill up the rest of my life.
Keith McCord: It was a matter of survival he says. So he turned to painting; something which he had liked to do before the accident. A special brace was made for his left hand to hold pencils and paintbrushes, and he began to sketch. Wendell says it took him four years before he was able to paint something that was pleasing to the eye. Things have changed since then. Painting was one thing that helped him turn his life around.
Wendell Johnson: It was encouraging at that time because I could see that finally the elements were starting to come together, and I was getting enough dexterity in the shoulders and arm. Since I have really no feeling from the shoulder down, I felt like at the time I was really starting to make some progress.
Keith McCord: He’s painted just about everything, but scenes with animals and people are his favorites. One of his favorites, and a favorite with friends is this one of Maple Mountain [visual: Amber Fields]; and this one of horses [visual: Percherons]. It’s been printed on the city calendar.
Because of his disability, painting has been tough. To paint certain scenes, the canvas has to be rotated on its side or upside-down. From start to finish, a painting can take several months.
Painting kept Johnson busy until just a couple of years ago. In 1981, he was nominated to run for mayor of Mapleton, and he won the election. He is currently in the middle of his four-year term. Don’t be fooled. Being mayor of a town with 3,000 people is a busy job.
Wendell Johnson: Nearly everything that goes on in a smaller city, the mayor has to be, if he’s not involved in it directly, he has to be aware of what’s going on so that when you get twenty to thirty phone calls a day, people want to know what’s going on and they ask a lot of questions, so you have to be prepared for that.
Keith McCord: Wendell does most of his mayoral duties at home. Seventy percent of that is on the phone. The rest of the time is spent in various meetings. The city council meets a couple of times a month. This past year has been particularly busy. When the spring floods hit Utah, Mapleton received its share of problems and there were many eighteen-hour days.
Johnson says one disadvantage about his disability is the fact he can’t get out and meet people as much as he’d like.
Wendell Johnson: But in other ways it’s an advantage because you are stuck at your desk, and you’ve got to get the work done or [shrug]. You can’t skip out and take in an afternoon social or something. You have to just stick with it until it’s done.
Keith McCord: Wendell Johnson has been a busy man, his mayoral duties notwithstanding. He designed his home. He was Justice of the Peace in Mapleton from 1974 through 1980. He’s president of the local Lion’s Club, and he co-authored a couple of books, including this historical account of the people of Mapleton [visual: a book by Wendell entitled: “Mapleton History”]. And no matter how busy he always has time to lend an ear to someone who is facing what he had to face when he was sixteen years old, lying in a hospital bed. The message to them?
Wendell Johnson: When I see young people with all the promise in the world feeling like there is nothing to do in this life it makes me a little bit sorry for them, that they haven’t realized what they have. Well, anybody for that matter, what they have and especially the potential to accomplish whatever they might imagine.
Bruce Lindsay: Wendell Johnson says he will not run for reelection when his current term expires. Politics is not his favorite pursuit, painting is, and he’ll concentrate on being an artist.