Awarded for her decades of stewardship, good works and leadership qualities, Ruth Johnson is the newest recipient of the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award.

Surprised by a full room of community members, friends, family and elected officials, Johnson was stunned walking into the American Legion Hall Thursday evening in Belfield. Little did she know her husband Larry was bringing her inside the building to be awarded an accomplishment that has sparked positivity in the county since its inauguration earlier this year.

When asked how it feels to be the fourth recipient of the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award, Johnson remarked it came as a surprise.

“I was astounded. I had no idea about any of this, that it was going to happen,” she said. “I was floored. Really just floored.”

Ruth Johnson, right, hugs a friend after receiving the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, at the American Legion Hall in Belfield. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
Ruth Johnson, right, hugs a friend after receiving the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, at the American Legion Hall in Belfield. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
Stark County Commissioner Carla Arthaud says a few words about her former elementary teacher Ruth Johnson during a special ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, at American Legion Hall in Belfield where Johnson would be awarded the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award for her years of stewardship and good works. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
Stark County Commissioner Carla Arthaud says a few words about her former elementary teacher Ruth Johnson during a special ceremony on Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, at American Legion Hall in Belfield where Johnson would be awarded the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award for her years of stewardship and good works. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

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The Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award is a resident driven program that is meant to spotlight positive actions done by local people with the purpose to build morale throughout the county.

Known for wearing a shirt that proclaims “Live Generously,” Johnson was acknowledged by several of her friends and colleagues with speeches and ongoing jokes. With each sentimental testimony, the room filled with love and friendship, detailing Johnson’s life of service from the Belfield Senior Center, American Legion Auxiliary and the Sportsmen Club, Dickinson Area Concert Association, Hunter’s Ed Program, among others.

While members from the Stark County Sheriff’s Office were also present at the event, Stark County Commissioner Carla Arthaud shared her personal accounts of Johnson from her younger years. Arthaud was Johnson’s very first first grader.

The county commissioner said she always remembered Johnson’s thoughtfulness and how she always packed Vitamin C tablets in her desk drawer in case any of her students got sick.

One day, Johnson was cleaning under the classroom and noticed something under Arthaud’s desk, so she asked her young student to come forward.

“At the bottom of the desk, it said, ‘I hate my teacher and her name is Mrs. Johnson,’” Arthaud said, as the crowd burst into laughter.

Johnson chimed in, “Actually, it said, ‘My teacher is a b**ch.”

The crowd roared with a gut-splitting laugh as Arthaud covered her red face in embarrassment.

Ruth Johnson — the most recent recipient of the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award — shows off her cake Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, at American Legion Hall in Belfield following a special ceremony. Johnson was selected for the award for her years of stewardship and good works. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
Ruth Johnson — the most recent recipient of the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award — shows off her cake Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, at American Legion Hall in Belfield following a special ceremony. Johnson was selected for the award for her years of stewardship and good works. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

Though Arthaud admitted she was “a little rambunctious” as a child, she will always look back at Johnson and her dedication as a teacher who sought to bring out the best in her students.

“From kindergarten to seventh grade, I am who I am because of her. A huge part is because of her,” Arthaud remarked. “... She so deserves this — what an amazing person.”

As the youngest of six siblings, Johnson said it was her parents’ toughness that has made her into the woman she is today.

“God gave me a tremendous amount of talent and ability when I was born. Through no worth of my own, it was just given,” Johnson remarked. “I don’t know for sure, but I think maybe I was an ornery little kid... But I think (my) mom wanted to make sure I turned out to be a decent human being instead of an ornery adult. And I think she probably told me 500 times or 700 or 1,000, ‘You’ve been given a lot and people who are given a lot, much is expected of them.’ She drilled that into me from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, and that is how I tried to live my life.”

Nominated by Glenda Buckman, Johnson said she is so appreciative of this award but was left in humbleness.

“It’s not hard to do what I do,” she said, addressing the room. “I love people and I love being here. I was raised by a magnificent mother and father, who gave up everything they could of had for themselves to make sure we each had an education.”

Not only was Johnson received by a warm welcome of words, but Julie Obrigewitsch — the brains behind the Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award — presented Johnson with a table of gift cards from local businesses in Stark County, merchandise, flower arrangements and more.

Obrigewitsch, who is a sales coordinator for the Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau, crafted this award program over the past year and nurtured it into reality.

With each award, all of the mayors from Stark County sit down and go over a long list of nominations before selecting a well-rounded recipient through a blind format, in which all of the nominee and nominator names are removed for a fair process.

“It’s been great,” Obrigewitsch said, adding, “It’s been really wonderful for the leadership of the county to bring them together for such a positive thing. So I really do appreciate the mayors of the county stepping up and being a part of this committee.”

The award is presented bi-monthly — or at the end of February, April, June, August, October and December. Nomination categories include leadership, customer service, innovation, stewardship and good samaritan/random acts of kindness.

The next Stark County Spirit of Excellence Award deadline is Oct. 15. To submit nominations, visit starkcountysheriffnd.com/spirit-of-excellence-award.