By Fred Woods
Tomorrow, Nov. 28, from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. Southside Church of Christ, 405 Carver Ave., will hold a dedication of The Thomas and Iola Johnston House which has been donated to the church by the Johnston family. The property was actually given to Southside on Dec. 31, 2013, but has been undergoing renovations until recently.
The house will be used as a home for many of the church’s community outreach programs. Some of these programs are a community “food shelf,” a community clothes closet, a tutoring program for young people and an arts and crafts teaching program.
Thomas H. Johnston (1884 – 1952) enrolled at Carnegie College in Chicago, receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Nov. 1918. Shortly after he received a law degree from a correspondence law school. Johnston next appears teaching school in Louvale, Ga., a small town 25 miles southeast of Columbus, where he met the woman who was to become his wife, Iola White (1895 – 1988). Actually, White was one of Thomas’s pupils. They were wed in 1924 in Louvale and moved to Opelika the following year.
Two years later, Johnston felt the call to preach the gospel. He was ordained a minister at the Bethesda Baptist Church in Opelika. Over the next 20-25 years, Rev. Johnston pastored several Baptist churches in the Opelika area, dispensed occasional free legal advice (while Johnston had a law degree he never took the bar exam, so couldn’t actually practice law) and, in general, was a friend and a good listener to people in all walks of life.
Iola, meanwhile, stayed at home and raised their eight children: Thomas (T.C.), John (J.B.), Mary, Portia, Myrtle, Jeremiah (Jerry), William and Mordecai (Mike). Iola was known for her sense of humor, her “gift of laughter,” and her ability to use this gift as a positive force in teaching her children and her friends to look at alternative approaches and solutions to life’s challenges.
The Johnston family realized the house was too large with its six bedrooms, three bathrooms, two dining rooms and one and one-half kitchens to rent as a single family residence, and potential buyers wanted to demolish the house and build something else on the lot. But they wanted the house preserved with the outside appearance of a residence. They finally decided the best way to achieve their goal was to donate the house to a religious entity.
As the house is directly across the street from the Southside Church of Christ, it appeared to be the ideal partnership. After discussions with Rev. Willie Whack and the rest of the Southside church leadership, transfer of ownership was made with restriction covenants in place to achieve the Johnston family’s goals with respect to their family home.