There was a measure of irony in the air Thursday night when Columbia Center manager Barbara Johnson was named the 2016 Tri-Citian of the Year.
In keeping with tradition, the Tri-Citian of the Year’s identity remained secret until it was announced. Even the nominee herself was in the dark until then. That’s no small feat considering Johnson was chairwoman of the Tri-Citian of the Year program until 2014.
The Tri-Citian of the Year is the region’s top civic honor, given for exceptional contributions to the community. Johnson has lent her support to a long list of civic groups.
Johnson, who lives in Richland, has been intimately involved with the Kennewick’s convention center complex since 2000, when she joined the fledgling Kennewick Public Facilities District board.
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She oversaw financing, design and construction of the $20 million center. As the district’s chairwoman, she is leading a campaign to convince voters to approve a two-tenths of a percent sales tax increase to finance a $35 million expansion and new performing arts center dubbed “The Link.”
Voters rejected a different, earlier expansion pitch in 2012.
2016 Columbia Center mall manager Barbara Johnson
2015 Cadwell Laboratories founders Priscilla and John Cadwell
2014 Sun Pacific Energy president Craig Eerkes
2013 Attorney Allen Brecke
2012 HAPO Community Credit Union executive Ron Hue
Johnson spent the intervening years leading efforts to develop a plan the community can get behind. That includes coordinating with the Port of Kennewick on the Vista Field redevelopment to ensure the neighboring projects are complementary.
Johnson was nominated by Ron Hue, the 2012 Tri-Citian of the Year winner and his wife Joan, along with Sondra Wilson.
The nomination was supported by several past winners, including Mike Schwenk (2008) and Fran Forgette (2001), as well as leaders of Visit Tri-Cities, Friends of Badger Mountain, the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce, Fields of Grace and the Tri-City Development Council, or TRIDEC.
She is an active member of Columbia Center Rotary and the TRIDEC board. She is past chairwoman of United Way of Benton-Franklin Counties, has volunteered with the regional chamber, visitor bureau and supported Friends of Badger Mountain.
Between 2010 and 2014, she led the Tri-Citian of the Year program. And, together with her husband Wayne, regularly organizes an annual dinner to raise money to support food drives.
“We nominators are literally in awe of Barbara Johnson,” the nomination says. “With her very demanding management profession and her devotion to her family, we wonder where she finds the personal time to donate to so many Tri-City projects and organizations.”
We nominators are literally in awe of Barbara Johnson. With her very demanding management profession and her devotion to her family, we wonder where she finds the personal time to donate to so many Tri-City projects and organizations.
Tri-Citian of the Year nomination application
In 2012, Soroptimist International of Pasco-Kennewick named Johnson its 2011 Kennewick Woman of the Year alongside Man of the Year Dennis Poland, president of Ray Poland and Sons, a general contractor.
She and Poland were lauded as the kinds of tireless workers who get the job done but who often “fly beneath the radar when it comes to public recognition.”
At the time, she declared, “I love this community. I love the fact that we all work together as a wonderful team to do so many things.”
The Tri-Citian of the Year award began as an initiative of the Tri-City Herald in 1962. It has operated as a community function since 1981 with sponsorship by the area’s Rotary clubs.
Johnson is the 47th honoree.
Recent winners include former Fluor executive John Umbarger in 2010, Port of Kennewick Commissioner Skip Novakovich in 2011, HAPO Community Credit Union executive Ron Hue in 2012, attorney Allen Brecke in 2013, Sun Pacific Energy president Craig Eerkes in 2014 and Cadwell Laboratories founders Priscilla and John Cadwell in 2015.