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Published: Tuesday, 11/8/2011 - Updated: 2 years ago

Florence Therese Johnson, 1917-2011: Local woman among city's 1st female bus drivers

BLADE STAFF

Florence Therese Johnson, who was among the women employed during World War II to drive buses for Toledo Traction Co., died Sunday, one day shy of her 94th birthday.

Mrs. Johnson of Sylvania died in Flower Hospital. Her daughter, Andrea Johnson, said she had been a patient in the Sylvania hospital since Oct. 29, when she fell at her home.

According to a story published in 1949 in The Blade, Mrs. Johnson was the second female bus driver hired by the company in 1943 to replace men who were in the military or working in other jobs to support war efforts.

Toledo Traction, the city’s former bus, trolley, and streetcar provider and predecessor to TARTA, took on 30 women to drive buses during the war years.

“She was one of the first women drivers. She was a real trailblazer,” Miss Johnson said.

Mrs. Johnson was recognized by the company for her safety record in 1949 for not having an accident for more than a year. After she quit in 1953, Charles Forsgard, Toledo Traction president, sent a letter to her, praising her skill as a driver and service to the company, her daughter said.

Mrs. Johnson redeemed the points earned through a company program for being a safe driver to obtain a toy kitchenware set of pots, pans, and dishes that she gave to her daughter.

“She was such a safe driver. She could cash in and get specific things,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Johnson gave up driving a bus to be a stay-at-home mom about 1953, when her daughter started grade school. Miss Johnson said that after her mother ended her career in driving she devoted her life to caring for her family. She said that she was determined that her only daughter would graduate from college.

“She did everything she could to support me,” said Miss Johnson, a retired Columbus Public Schools teacher. “She wanted to give me the opportunities that she didn’t have.”

The former Florence Scholtz, she grew up in the old Polish neighborhood of Kuschwantz, near Nebraska and Junction avenues. She graduated from Libbey High School.

After high school, she attended beautician school. Her daughter said she was allergic to the chemicals used to treat hair, and, in need of a job, she joined the Teamsters and was hired to drive box trucks for a biscuit and bread company. Eventually she was promoted to supervisor, overseeing the packing of baked goods in trucks.

Mrs. Johnson left the biscuit firm to work for Toledo Traction. She married Emmett Willard Johnson. Miss Johnson said he had been a passenger on her bus route. He died July 31, 2004.

Miss Johnson said that her mother enjoyed traveling, working in her flower gardens, cooking, and caring for the many dogs she had through the years, including her last, Thunder, a German shepherd. She also said that her mother made clothes, using sewing machines to fashion complete outfits.

“She had so much energy it would put you to shame,” her daughter said. “We would go out shopping and she would be 10 steps ahead of me. She just wouldn’t stop. She could go from morning to night.”

She was a member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Sylvania and a former member of St. Hyancinth’s Church.

Surviving are her daughter, Andrea Johnson, and sister, Celia Rucki.

Visitation will be from 3 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the Walker Funeral Home, where the rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. that day. Funeral services will begin with prayers at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the funeral home, followed by a Mass at St. Joseph’s Church.

— Mark Reiter



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