When Columbus native Joshua Johnson moved back to town right as the COVID-19 pandemic began in early 2020, he only had one goal.
“I said I would get involved in as much as I can. I wouldn’t be the typical person who wants to complain about something and never take any action.” Johnson said. “I wanted to make Columbus better. I wanted to improve it and help it grow.”
A proud family man who has two children (6-year-old Morgan and 3-year-old Ethan) with his wife, Breanne, Joshua is the vice president of Consumer Banking at Columbus Bank and Trust Company. Somehow among his personal and professional commitments, he has managed to find various nonprofit organizations and community initiatives to get involved with throughout the last three or so years.
As of November 2023, Johnson is the president of the Columbus Area United Way Board of Directors; treasurer of both the Platte County Ag Society and the Columbus Area Future Fund; a member of the Finance Committee at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce; and president/chairman of the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) Board.
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: Joshua Johnson, left, accepts the Volunteer Citizen of the Year award from City Administrator Tara Vasicek during the City's annual recognition banquet held in October at the American Legion. Johnson said he was honored to receive the award, though never expected it.)
Johnson is well respected and known throughout Columbus for his volunteer efforts and commitment to the community, so it’s no surprise he was recently nominated and awarded the honor of Citizen Volunteer of the Year by the City of Columbus during its annual banquet.
“I was just kind of in shock,” a humble Johnson said. “I just feel like there are a lot of other people out there who contribute and deserve this. So, I certainly didn’t expect it.”
Johnson said he took the letter to his boss, who playfully gave him a hard time.
“He said, ‘It’s got to be a misprint,’” he said, with a laugh. “Of course, it was nice to be recognized.”
City Planning and Economic Development Coordinator Jean Van Iperen works with Johnson extensively as the City’s liaison for the Business Improvement District (BID). She said she believes he’s a great leader for not just the BID Board but Columbus as a whole.
“I like the fact he moved back to the community to raise his family. This is where he wants to be,” Van Iperen said. “He takes great pride in downtown and making it a more vibrant space. I just think he has the community in whole in mind with what he does on this board as well as every board he serves on.”
Van Iperen also praised his efforts on the BID Board in particular.
“He has always been willing to step up to the plate when we’ve needed him to talk about the issues and promote the BID,” she said. “He took it upon himself to talk with various business owners, so I think he has been very instrumental in getting the BID Board and the BID itself to the point it is right now.”
A Scotus Central Catholic High School graduate, Johnson said Columbus was a wonderful place to grow up. He recalled people having close relationships with their neighbors, which allowed everyone to feel safe letting their children run and play.
“You went home when the streetlights came on,” Johnson fondly recalled. “You could count on a good education and the chance to participate in youth sports.”
Still, the Shamrock alumnus had a desire to break away from what was familiar.
“Columbus is like a big family. Columbus does a very good job of sheltering you,” Johnson said. “But you see all the stuff that’s out there, and for me, I wanted to experience what was out there and I wanted to see how I would be all on my own.”
Johnson graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2006, majoring in business administration and minoring in marketing and history. After college, the Husker alumnus found himself waiting tables at Grisanti’s in Lincoln, which morphed into six years of managing restaurants and eventually relocating to Omaha.
Omaha became home to Johnson for 12 years. Joshua and Breanne were married on Aug. 8, 2015. During their time there, he transitioned to the banking world and served as a personal banker, assistant branch manager and eventually branch manager at First National Bank of Omaha.
With one child, and another on the way, the couple thought back to their roots. Johnson remembered his school days in Columbus, while Breanne thought back to her time in her native Harlan, Iowa, a community that has about 4,900 people as of the 2020 U.S. Census. They liked the idea of their kids being in smaller schools and living in a close-knit community that is harder to find in a larger city.
The stars aligned as Columbus Bank and Trust Company, which had approached Johnson previously, made one last effort to recruit him in early 2020. The couple couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
“Moving here right before things shut down in early 2020 helped us not miss Omaha,” Johnson said.
Johnson took some time to get his family settled before he got involved with Envision Columbus, a process of discussions with various community stakeholders and a background study that helped create Columbus’ vision for its collective future with hopes to help guide its development.
That process was, in a way, the catalyst that helped Johnson take the leap into various community initiatives. He acknowledged there are times when he’s tired or when having multiple things on his plate can be tough, but having a supportive employer and family enables him to keep at it.
“Some days I wonder why I do it myself, but I really do just enjoy it,” he said. “This community has been very good to me.”
What drives him besides his family are those days he thinks back to his youth in the 1990s when he would hear about plans people had to grow Columbus. Some of those plans had never got off the ground and were still just being talked about when he moved back three years ago.
“Some people like to talk about it but never do it. I don’t want to talk about it; I want to get it done,” Johnson said. “If I feel passionate about it, if I’m going to invest my time, give up some of my free time and my sanity at times, I want to make things better. So, if I say I’m going to commit to something, I’m fully committed.”
Johnson is undoubtedly appreciative to have been named Citizen Volunteer of the Year, but he’s insistent he hopes he can help bring real change to his hometown that will help it thrive for generations to come. That’s his focus.
“I just want to leave my mark by making something happen everyone has talked about making happen. I want to make Columbus better,” Johnson said. “I want Columbus to continue to improve and be an even better environment for my children. If I can help do that, who knows what will happen?”
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