February 18, 2020
Living on a rural pastor’s salary required the Johnsons, a family of 10 children, to watch their pennies. They lived simply in the church parsonage. Their son Joshua understood his family had no money for extras. “We had everything we needed,” Josh recalls, “but there were never many Christmas presents. I always wore hand-me-downs.”
So, from age 13 through high school, Josh worked many jobs he grew to love – from landscaping to baling hay to tree farming. Encouraged by employers and feelings of accomplishment, Josh saw that he could be happy near family and earn a decent living in Lehighton, Pennsylvania. But he wondered: Were there career opportunities beyond working in his hometown?
Williamson offered Josh the opportunity to connect with a wide network of trades professionals and businesses he would never have otherwise known.
Williamson promotes a strong work ethic in students, and Josh’s was rooted in his family life. He watched as his older siblings earned extra money, and, on occasion, treated the younger children to McDonalds or the movies. Josh would do the same for his younger brothers as soon as he started working.
Meanwhile, Josh earned enough to buy a car to get him to work, a phone to communicate with his employer, and much-needed work boots. “For me, it was all about school and working,” says Josh, who, like all his siblings, was home-schooled by his mother. “Sometimes I would take a day off to catch up on all my school work and try to get ahead so I could work longer days the rest of the week!”
Josh first heard about Williamson through a member of his church. He told Josh about Williamson’s Career Fairs where employers come to recruit students for internships and full-time jobs. Josh realized how much weight the Williamson reputation carried. He decided to apply.
Fortunately, Josh was well-suited to Williamson; hard work and a strong religious upbringing had shaped his moral character. In 2017, Josh was admitted to the Horticulture program at Williamson.
“Young men like Josh need Williamson in not-so-obvious ways,” says David Day, Director of Horticulture. Many students at Williamson come from unstable homes with very little structure and support. Josh came from a very supportive family and brought with him a strong work ethic and prior experience in landscaping.
Character education is a key component of a Williamson education. Students are held accountable for being honest, hard-working, reliable, punctual and polite. But when he began his studies, Josh had all these attributes.
“Josh already came to Williamson with character,” says Mr. Day. “What he needed from the College was experience beyond his hometown of Lehighton. Being exposed to the wider world, he would get recognized for his talent and potential.”
“Indefatigable” is how Mr. Day describes Josh. “He puts everything into what he does. He tries to achieve at the highest levels while always looking for things to do that are meaningful.”
At the end of his freshman year, Josh approached Mr. Day with a proposal to build a bridge across a stream which sits in the backwoods on campus. Impressed with the first-year’s initiative, Mr. Day gave him a loose structure, the tools and hardware needed, encouraged environmental resourcefulness and safety, and sent him on his way. Working with his peers, Josh learned to direct a team and coordinate with others.
Right now, Josh is getting ready for the 2020 Philadelphia International Flower Show. Each year, Williamson presents an educational display at the renowned event. A year in the making, “Riviera Holiday – Waterless Wonders” is about how plants adapt to harsh environments to conserve water. “I loved every minute of it.” He applauds the concept and design of the Mediterranean garden that he helped to create. “It’s great to see it all come together.”
Josh has held the Scott Simpson Scholarship in Horticulture for his three years at Williamson. That award provided him with the ability to network with Scott and Jennifer Simpson, generous donors of the college.
Josh has also broadened his perspective through his work as a Student Ambassador. “It helped me with my public speaking. I got to talk to, learn about and understand people who come from different backgrounds.” One of the first tours Josh led on campus was for Bill Bonenberger 7W9, Chairman of the Board and Founder & CEO of premiere home builder W.B. Homes, Inc. His contact with Mr. Bonenberger led to a successful summer internship with W.B. Homes.
After graduation, Josh will work as an assistant field engineer for the general contracting company Whiting-Turner. His goal is to one day become a superintendent. For now, he will be commuting 40 minutes from his family home until he has saved enough to buy a house. “I never would have found this kind of opportunity with Whiting-Turner, if I hadn’t come to Williamson.”
He knows that with his new job he will be traveling, and he is comfortable with that. But he wants to stay close to the Johnson clan, especially because nieces and nephews are coming along. And just as he did as a teenager working long hours and keeping up with all his brothers and sisters, he’ll continue to stay busy doing what he loves, near the family that he loves.
Your support makes it possible for students like Josh to attend Williamson College of the Trades with a full scholarship that covers tuition, room, and board. You can help to prepare the next generation of Williamson Men to be respected leaders and productive members of society by Making a Gift Today.