A Life Lived: Onza Johnson delighted many with her stories, work ethic

Published 12:11 pm Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Onza Johnson, or Onzie as she was known to most, was a delightful person, who had a lifetime of stories to tell and more experiences at living than most people. Onza was never afraid of hard work, and although she had no children of her own, many looked to her for love and advice.
Onza died March 30 at the age of 104. Onza was a resident of the Roan Mountain community, but had spent the last three and one-half years at the Waters of the Roan nursing facility. She was one of ten children of Weaver and Ethel Johnson Holtsclaw, and was the last of her siblings to pass.
Her niece, Margaret Heaton, said Onza had an amazing work ethic and was a warm and sweet loving lady, who enjoyed life and people. “She was a very common person, who had worked hard all her life and often did without to save what she could. She enjoyed the simple things in life — her family and friends, her church, reading the Bible, gospel music. At the nursing home, she played bingo and always attended the worship services and gospel music programs. In earlier years she enjoyed making quilts,” shared Margaret.
Margaret said Onza was a good cook. “She liked country foods, such as chicken and dumplings and blackberry cobbler.”
“She was a second mama to me. My husband, Wayne, and I took Onza under our wings and did for her in her later years when she was alone. But, she had many friends. The thing I remember about her was her love for the mountains. She enjoyed going on hikes in the woods and seeing the wildflowers. We shared that love for the outdoors and would often take walks together in the woods. She enjoyed doing this up into her seventies. She always had good health,” Margaret shared.
Onza was married to Lincoln Johnson, who died fairly young. He worked in timber and logging operations and Onza often traveled with him to those camps in Tennessee and Virginia, and would cook for the men. 
Onza retired as a housekeeper at the old Cannon Memorial Hospital in Banner Elk, N.C., and in later years worked at the Roan Mountain Supermarket and Lawrence’s Grocery Store in Roan Mountain. “She probably worked at the supermarket when she was in her 80s,” said Margaret.
Ozzie enjoyed music, and had a collection of Christmas music by Rhody Jane Meadows and Ellie Hjemmett dedicated to her. “In 2010 we were working on a CD of Christmas music and that September we came by Onza’s to play music for her 94th birthday. Rhody Jane wrote in the notes of her recording: ‘It was Onzie Johnson’s 94th birthday, so we all gathered up at her house to celebrate. The neighbors brought ice cream, cake, cookies, pizza, and presents and we asked Onzie what song she’d like for us to sing to honor her birthday. This is it! ‘Christmas Time’s A-Coming.’ 
So on the dedication page Rhody Jane wrote “Lovingly dedicated to Onzie Johnson of Roan Mountain, whose perennial belief that ‘Christmas Time’s A-Coming’ inspires us all.”
Ellie shared that Onzie, even in her 90s had a green thumb, and could grow some of the best tomatoes ever. One of the stories she shared with Ellie was how she acquired her collection of beautiful purple poppies, which came up every year around her house. She collected the seeds every fall and sowed them each spring. She shared that one year after a bad flood season, she noticed one lone purple flower growing across the creek from her house. She collected seeds from it and sowed them near her house….and each year the purple poppies kept coming back and bloomed.
Another admirer of Onza is Khristina Cardwell of Hampton, who is distantly akin to Onza. “She helped pour into me when I was a new Christian. She shared with me that her favorite Bible verse was Rom. 8:28. She enjoyed listening to Bible preachers on the radio such as Dr. David Jeremiah and Rev. Charles Stanley,” said Khristina.
“For as long as I knew her, she was an old woman, and I enjoyed listening to her stories. She was well known in the Roan Mountain community, and very much loved by those who knew her. Onzie was one special woman, a good Christian woman, who wasn’t afraid of hard work,” said Khristina.
Onzie Johnson is now at rest. But, memories of her will be around for a long time, as she touched so many lives during her lifetime.

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