PULLMAN, Wash. — For centenarian Mae Sherman Johnson and her daughter Joyce Johnson Hansell of Umatilla County, Ore., it was a nostalgic trip. They returned to Pullman May 9 to relive memories of their college days and be honored at Washington State University’s 102nd commencement.
Johnson and Hansell were honored with other family members in the VIP section of Beasley Performing Arts Coliseum. “You represent the many WSU families with deep WSU roots,” said WSU President Samuel Smith.
Johnson celebrated her 101st birthday Feb. 9. She is one year older than the WSU Alumni Association, which is commemorating its centennial. In addition to being one of the university’s oldest alumni, she is the matriarch of a long line of Cougars. Her great-granddaughter, Heather Hendrix of Selah, recently completed her freshman year in prepharmacy and was a student body senator.
“Mom and I were counting the children, nieces, nephews and siblings the other day,” Hansell said, “and we both agreed on 19 Cougars in the family.”
Hansell lives in Athena, Ore., just 12 miles away from her mother who has an apartment in an assisted-living facility in Milton-Freewater, Ore. They talk by phone almost daily, and Hansell visits her several times a week.
“She’s sweet tempered. She’s just nice to people,” says Hansell of her mom. “And she has a sweet tooth for chocolate candy.” Although she is frail and has lost her eyesight, she is in pretty good shape, except for her memory, “which can be great at times, often on things I wish she would forget,” reports Hansell. Her mother enjoys listening to baseball’s Seattle Mariners on television and following WSU Cougar football through radio broadcasts.
When they reminisce about their college days, both are on common ground. Mae Sherman moved from Missouri to Washington in 1899 at age 2. Her father was a founder of the Bank of Endicott. She enrolled at Washington State College in 1915, two years after her sister, Clara, began college. A few years later Clara and Mae’s younger brother, Clark, followed his sisters to WSC. Mae pledged her sister’s sorority, Alpha Delta Pi, majored in music and was a pianist and singer. In addition to cheering on the victorious Cougar Rose Bowl team of 1916, Mae participated in sports for her sorority–tennis and basketball (boys’ rules).
During her year in college, Mae met C. Homer Johnson, a pharmacy student from Missouri and a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. They married in 1917, just before he entered the Army in World War I.
They purchased the Corner Drug Store on Main Street in downtown Pullman in 1925 and sold it in 1948. Mae was active in the operation of the store as buyer and bookkeeper and in the historic Greystone Presbyterian Church. After the Johnsons moved to Walla Walla in 1955, she served as deputy treasurer of Walla Walla County for several years. Homer died in 1984, and a few years later, Mae moved to a retirement facility in Milton-Freewater.
Hansell fondly remembers growing up in Pullman and her college days. She joined Kappa Alpha Theta sorority. Like her father, she graduated in pharmacy (1941). Her first job as a pharmacist was in Athena; and it was at the local pharmacy where she met her future husband, William H. Hansell, a veterinary medicine student at WSC. Bill died last July.
Her sister, Janis Johnson Johnson, started at WSU and was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. She transferred to the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, N.Y., where she completed a bachelor of music in voice degree. While there, she met her husband, Roy H. Johnson, now professor emeritus of Piano, University of Maryland, College Park.
The Hansells lived in Pullman after their marriage in 1942 until Bill received his D.V.M. in January 1944, and Joyce worked in the family business. After his discharge from the Army at the end of World War II, they farmed and raised livestock in Athena and Hermiston, Ore. Over the years, they have consistently supported their alma mater, the university’s Alumni Association, WSU Foundation, Cougar Club, WSU sports programs, their living groups, academic colleges and their church.
Two of the Hansells’ three sons and both their daughters have Cougar ties. Tyler (’70 Animal Sci.) was a lineman for the Cougar football team (1967-69); Woodson studied agriculture from 1967-1969. Their oldest son, Bill, went to the University of Oregon. All three boys were members of Sigma Chi fraternity like their dad before them.
A daughter, Kathleen Hansell Hendrix, completed a master’s degree in adult education. Her sister, Alison, is a 1981 graduate in agriculture communications. Both are affiliated with their mom’s sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, as is Hendrix’s daughter, Heather. Another Hansell, Tyler’s son T.J., plans to transfer to WSU this fall from Walla Walla Community College, where he is student body president and won letters in football and tennis.
Asked about her mother’s formula for long life, Joyce Hansell cited “a great sense of humor, being active in her church, a general interest in what goes on around her and her two daughters, seven grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson.” Hansell, too, places great value on family life and church, stewardship of the land as well as “an appreciation of young people, their worth and what they can accomplish.”