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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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John Johnson might have come across as a gruff old football coach to some, but to Cathy Johnson he was like putty in her hands.

"She was a great lady," Johnson said. "I was married to her for 31 years. She was a great coach's wife. She was feeding kids, having them over…She really loved kids ... She was a good one."

John Johnson knows better than anyone that when you're in the coaching profession for 41 years and you have four daughters to raise it's a good idea to find a companion who wants to be involved in all aspects of your life.

Cathy Johnson, who served on the Oregon School Board for eight years, passed away April 23 in a hospice bed in Florida. She was 58.

She valiantly battled breast cancer for 12 years, but the cancer ultimately found its way to her liver.

"We were lucky," John said, speaking of his family. "She didn't suffer."

Cathy was a member of the Oregon School Board when Mike Zalar, now superintendent, was hired to be the principal at Clay High School. Zalar worked with Cathy for more than three years.

"She was very easy to work with and was very much an advocate for kids. I think our school and community will miss Cathy greatly. She had a servant's heart and she dedicated a great deal of her life to our schools and our community."

Jeff Ziviski, the current Oregon School Board president, served on the board with Cathy in 2006-07, her final two years as a board member. "When I came on, it was my first time in elected office," Ziviski said. "She kind of became my mentor. She taught me the job and the responsibility a board member should play. Every opinion was valuable to her. She wouldn't just talk to someone and ask about something just to appease them. She wanted input and listened to their opinions and incorporated them into her own analysis."

For Cathy Otremba and John Johnson, it wasn't exactly love at first site. They met at the University of Toledo.

"A had a couple of fraternity brothers who knew her, and I used to have a lot of parties and some of my (fraternity) brothers had dated her," John recalled. "She was five years younger than me, so I didn't know her that well. When I got into coaching, in my last year at Bowsher before I went to Macomber, I went to a Toledo Federation of Teachers party and I ran into her and we started talking. We went to a bar with some other people afterwards and I asked her out and we started dating.

"She was good looking and she had a great personality. At the time, I was getting older and she was still young. I sent her messages at school. It was one of those things where we could never connect--she was out and I was out somewhere. I was busy with basketball and football and she was involved in school, with sorority things."

John graduated from DeVilbiss High School and Cathy graduated from Start, but they had something in common. They both attended Whittier Elementary School, albeit five years apart. They were married in July, 1978.

"That was the only time we could get married," John said. "I was playing softball and getting ready for football."

While John immersed himself in coaching, Cathy got involved in education. She served as a teacher, principal and school board member for Toledo Public Schools for more than 35 years. In 2008, Cathy was named Educator of the Year by the East Toledo Family Center.

Last month, John and Cathy left for Florida on a Thursday evening and drove all the way to a niece's house in Orlando before heading to Siesta Key, where they had vacationed for the past 15 years. Before they could drive to Siesta Key, however, John had to take Cathy to a hospital.

"She had some fluid in her body," he said, "and I guess what happened, we found out later on, was that the liver can't process certain fluids and one of them is ammonia. It has to get through the liver. They had to put her on a diuretic to get rid of the ammonia.

"The doctor came in on Saturday and said there's something wrong. The Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando performed a liver biopsy on Cathy on a Tuesday. The doctor came back and said, 'I'll give her three weeks,'" John said.

"The cancer had invaded the liver. Her liver was shutting down. The kids came down and we had a pity party. She said what she expected out of all of us and she told her sister, Sue, to take care of all of us. That's the way she was. She was never concerned about herself.

"When the doctor said she had three weeks that sort of hit her upside the head. We got her into hospice on Monday and she died Thursday morning, around 2 or 3. She squeezed my hand ... and that was it."

Two years ago John and Cathy began renovating a house that John bought from one of his former players on River Road, overlooking the Maumee River. John said the renovation is almost complete; he and Cathy planned to move in around early July.

"I'm going to move in there," John said. "There are a lot of memories in this old house. The new house has her thoughts and ideas. She really liked the river view. We're right on the river. She wanted to live on the river."

John and Cathy's four daughters - Jamie, 30, Leslie, 27, Melissa, 25, and Lindsey, 24 - buried Cathy on May 2. John estimated that close to 400 people attended the funeral to pay their respects.

"It makes you feel good," John said. "It shows people thought a lot of her. I was lucky. I had a great one."

Poll module

Christmas spending

Are spending more, less or the same amount this year for Christmas?
584567265 [{"id":"27","title":"More","votes":"0","pct":0,"type":"x","order":"1","resources":[]},{"id":"28","title":"Less","votes":"1","pct":50,"type":"x","order":"2","resources":[]},{"id":"29","title":"The same","votes":"1","pct":50,"type":"x","order":"3","resources":[]}] ["#194e84","#3b6b9c","#1f242a","#37414a","#60bb22","#f2babb"] sbar 160 160 /component/communitypolls/vote/12-christmas-spending No answer selected. Please try again. Thank you for your vote. Answers Votes ...