The New 96: Red Leather Pants, White Sports Car and Still Working


 

She had no idea a camera would be there. No idea there would be an impromptu party for her 96th birthday

Yet, Nancy Johnson was in red leather pants, a matching leather vest, wearing small gold earrings in each of the six piercings in her ears.

If this is 96 years old, you all want to be it. Trust us.

Johnson, born on Feb. 9, 1921, is the oldest employee at IU Health. She works at The Simulation Center, where her job title is standardized patient. Johnson, in essence, is an actress who plays out scenarios so medical students can practice under simulated conditions.

“They’re having geriatric scenarios today,” said Paul Collins, manager of the center. “And she’s not really the one you want for that.”

Because, truly, it’s hard to believe Johnson is a geriatric, let alone 96. She drives a white Saturn sports car. She tap dances, something she’s done her whole life. Her father was a musician in the big bands and, in 1927, helped open the Madame Walker Theatre. She has just a few gray hairs on her head – that’s without any coloring. And she loves margaritas.

On Thursday, coworkers surprised Johnson with a birthday cake after training was complete. Someone mentioned she was the oldest employee at IU Health. Johnson looked up from cutting her cake, in surprise.

“Am I the oldest one?” she asked.

“They don’t make them much older,” said Jane Perry, who also works as a standardized patient.

Johnson has been married three times and is now single. She doesn’t eat raw eggs or attribute her longevity to any act she does each day.

“My secret? Mine is love. I love everybody. I love people. It’s easy to love. We all come from the same spirit,” she said. “I think about this often. I can’t understand why people hate. When we all came from the same place.”

Johnson hasn’t always worked at IU Health; she started that job when she was in her early 80s. For most of her life, nearly four decades, she taught English and physical education.

After graduating from Butler University, she started teaching in 1942 at IPS School 23. From there she moved on to IPS School 26, then Shortridge Junior High and she ended her career at Washington High, retiring in 1981.

But Johnson never really retired. She always worked somewhere. And she has no plans to retire now. Her job at IU Health is part time; she comes in as needed for training.

“I want to be active as long as I can,” she said. “I like to be around people.”

For fun, we asked a few people at the party to describe Johnson:

“I have this 96-year-old friend who seems like she’s 56. She loves everybody and she’s a lot of fun.” — Barbara Hill, IU Health standardized patient coworker.

“She doesn’t look 96 does she? She’s always in this kind of a great mood. She is never down, always up.” — Kathy Johnson, administrative assistant at The Simulation Center.

“For me, I remember I asked her at one point, ‘Why are you still working?’ And it was one of the best things I’ve heard. She said, ‘I do it because I like teaching the students.’ A lot of people say that and then they retire. She is 96. She really likes teaching. And then, obviously, she’s the sweetest person in the whole world.  She’s lively.” — Greg Hasty, coordinator of The Simulation Center.

“She’s fun. She is loving. And she dresses spiffy.” — Jane Perry, coworker at IU Health.

And from Johnson?

“As far as my life, it’s been a beautiful life,” she said. “It is a beautiful life.”

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow

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The New 96: Red Leather Pants, White Sports Car and Still Working

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