For the second year in a row, one of Idaho’s Brightest Stars burns brightly for Kamiah.
DawnMarie Johnson was selected as the recipient of the Idaho Brightest Star Award in the individual category from a field of 20 candidates statewide. Last year teenager Thomas Moss-Mozley won the honor in the student category.
“Volunteerism is a gift that benefits citizens and addresses needs in communities throughout our state,” said Gov. Brad Little in a press release. “These men and women are not seeking recognition, but it is important to acknowledge these Brightest Star recipients and their generous commitment to giving to others and ensuring a bright future for all citizens.”
All nominees were recognized as stars in their communities by Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, and one Brightest Star Volunteer of the Year was chosen in each category. Additionally, for the second year the Gov. Cecil D. Andrus Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to one outstanding volunteer.
Volunteers were nominated for their contributions in seven categories: Business, Individual, Nonprofit/Civic Organization, Senior Citizen, Student, Teacher/Professor, and Veteran. Awardees were nominated by Idahoans throughout the state and a panel of community reviewers made the final selection.
Ever since Johnson moved here from North Dakota in 1992 she has been actively working to better the Upper Clearwater Valley, sacrificing thousands of hours on dozens of projects. She estimated more than 500 hours of volunteer service in 2019 alone.
Johnson is a member of the Kamiah Kiwanis Club, has served on the board of the Kamiah Chamber of Commerce for at least 20 years, worked with the Upper Clearwater Community Foundation, Kooskia VEST Foundation, Kooskia Chamber of Commerce, Kamiah Community Partners Coalition, Save The Pool fundraisers, is a 4-H parent with the Big Butte Buck-a-Roos, sports mom, and Key Club advisor.
Despite such a resume of good works, Johnson was quite surprised to win the award. “It was very honoring. I don’t know if I felt like I was the most honored or the biggest sucker,” she said alluding to her friends encouraging her to keep doing all that she does.
She says she was actually freaked out about the whole situation while driving to Boise last week after friend and businessman Robert Simmons posted on Facebook that she had won the award.
She told her friends and traveling companions Tara Cloninger and Sheila Simmons, Robert’s wife, that he needed to remove it. It wasn’t long before she started receiving congratulation messages, making her adamant that Simmons’ message be removed.
But her friends told her to “just wait till tomorrow, maybe you’ll win.”
She thought to herself, “What if I don’t.”
“Thank goodness I won,” she said a bit relieved.
Johnson works as a mail carrier out of Orofino and also does some work for Freedom Northwest Credit Union. “I cater their board meetings. That is really fun, I love that.”
Not content with her own work, she likes getting her hands into everything she can. She feels it is not only important but necessary to serve the community.
“I just love this community. This is what I feel about a small town: I think it takes all of us to make it successful,” said Johnson. “Especially a little town like Kamiah. We don’t have a thriving economy. We kinda have to sell Kamiah on what it looks like. Luckily we have the river and the beauty of the nature so we’ve got to sell Kamiah on that.”
Growing up in North Dakota, Johnson said, “You can’t just float a river. I went to college in Fargo and we had the Red River. It’s dirty icky, muddy river. You don’t float the river.
“I moved out here May 22 in ’92. It’s the most beautiful scene I’ve ever seen.”
Ideas continually churn in Johnson’s mind about what the community needs and oftentimes those ideas become reality. One of the projects she is most proud of is acquiring playground equipment at Riverfront Park. “I would like to see some by the pool too.”
Not every idea is as big as a park playground, but even small acts make a difference. For example, Johnson used her day off on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to bake cookies all day for the Crab Feed this weekend.
The Crab Feed is the Save the Pool Committee’s annual fundraiser to repair and reopen the city swimming pool.
“I’m not a paperwork person. I could dig a bunch of holes. I’d rather do the labor,” said Johnson. “I can’t stand paperwork.”
If only she had a grant writer and more volunteers, a lot more could be done.
“I feel bad right now, we don’t have the [Christmas] lights down from the park yet. It’s awful.” Other priorities have already arrived, such as the Crab Feed and a Friendraiser next Saturday to help community member Bob Wilcox, who has been diagnosed with cancer.
“I cannot believe how many people I talk to say, ‘I would sure help but I just don’t have any time.’ I’m like two hours isn’t that much a week or a month,” said Johnson.
Many are also unaware of how much local organizations really do, noted Johnson. “I think people don’t understand what the [Kamiah] Kiwanis is. The Kiwanis does a lot for the school helping kids get their grades up and rewarding them for that. Even just a scholarship for the seniors. It’s amazing how few kids even apply for that scholarship. Everything the Kiwanis do they completely give it all back to this community,” she explained.
“The chamber, everything we do is to help the community. All our fundraisers, it’s giving back to the community.”
For instance, the chamber of commerce hires a prison work crew to come weed eat, clean around town, and pressure wash buildings on Main Street to name a few things. It’s anticipated they will sandblast the pool in preparation for it getting repaired and opened.
“I worried the pool would never get opened. It looks like it is. I’m flabbergasted at how much they say it’s going to cost. Apparently that is because it’s a commercial pool. I would really like to see if we get our pool back open that we actually get our tennis court back open and maybe put a skatepark down there. I think these are obtainable goals.”
She thought the addition of basketball hoops in the tennis court area might be viable also.
“I wish they would outlaw video games until age 21,” she said. “Maybe I would have more people in the park volunteering.”
She noted the flowerbeds and planters need regular attention and since the passing of Lauran Kittle and Lillian Pethtel and moving away of Janet Cruz—the community’s plant gurus—focus on the posies has faded some.
“Everyone is getting old so I don’t know how to motivate the younger generation to step up,” said Johnson. She said it might be possible to pay a group interested in helping. She did credit the YAB group for helping to care for the Main Street planters, but notes there is so much more that could be done.
“I think more people should step up and help out. But I don’t know how we get them to help out.”
Johnson and her husband Jeremy will celebrate their 10th anniversary this summer. She has four children: Megan Beckman, 25, who is an executive chef at the University of Idaho; Hailey Beckman, 24, a dental hygienist at Pullman; Carson Beckman, 21, works for an oil company at Williston, N.D.; and Delaney Beckman, 16, is a sophomore at Nezperce High School.