By Suzanne Yeagley

Wanda Johnson

Wanda Johnson

Wanda Johnson has worked at The Lighthouse for the Blind, Inc. in Spokane since January 2018, but she didn’t come to Spokane specifically to work for the Lighthouse.

In 2015, she was living in Austin, Texas, and she and her husband Steve decided they needed to move. Though Wanda was born and raised in Texas, she has Albinism, which makes it difficult for her to be outside in the bright Texas sun. She found more and more that her life was happening in the nighttime hours, so she and Steve created a spreadsheet and started adding potential cities to a list. Population, transit, weather, economics, and even the size of the bug population were considered – there are way too many snakes, fire ants, and chigger bugs in Texas.

After much deliberation, Wanda and Steve moved to Spokane in April 2016. So how did she hear about the Lighthouse?

“Every time I took a bus the drivers would always tell me, ‘They hire blind people out here!’ and eventually I looked into it,” she says.

Wanda is learning a variety of different jobs at the Lighthouse. She has boxed wallboards, dry erase boards, and combo boards, has worked in the Machine Shop, and she has run a machine that uses air pressure to staple the frames on corkboards. She’s always done office or field work, so this has been a new experience for her. She did some production work 35 years ago, but it’s been a while!

Her husband Steve is a musician who plays the saxophone and performs everything from jazz to 80s hits to Texas music like Bob Wills, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

When Wanda was in her teens, she met Steve while they were both riding a bus to the School for the Blind in Austin. He was “sweet on her,” she says, but he was a city boy and she was a country girl, and she wasn’t interested at the time. 22 years later, their paths crossed again, when he happened to call the bus service where she worked. He recognized her voice, and though he was a confirmed bachelor, he couldn’t resist Wanda’s charms, and within a year or so he proposed.

“We like to say we started talking then and we haven’t quit since,” Wanda says.

In 2005, in their first year of marriage, Wanda was diagnosed with Kidney Cancer. Steve promised her that if she lived, he would move her somewhere cooler than Texas. With temperatures above 100 degrees in recent summers, and 85% humidity, Wanda and Steve were ready for a change — hence the spreadsheet and the move to Spokane!

Wanda has been working with Tim Paulding, Orientation and Mobility Specialist at the Lighthouse to improve her daytime mobility skills, and she and Steve have explored Spokane extensively. Spokane has been an adventure for them. They have found a few great pizza places, a market with local produce and meats, and when she goes to the summertime Pig Out in the Parkfestival, she likes that she can sit in the grass and not be bitten by fire ants. Wanda happily says, “And I can go to a lake now for more than twenty minutes!”

Wanda is excited for her and her husband’s future in Spokane and to be at an organization that empowers people who are blind every single day.