SCHENECTADY -- Karen Johnson, the first woman to serve as mayor of Schenectady, received the city's highest award Monday when she was named a Patroon during a ceremony at Steinmetz Park.
Johnson first won election as mayor in 1983 and was re-elected in 1987. She won election to the City Council in 1975 and later won a seat in 2001 on the Schenectady County Legislature. She continues to serve on the Legislature as vice chairperson.
"Thank you very much," Johnson said after receiving the award Monday from current Mayor Gary McCarthy. "Seeing so many people who've been civically involved today is really a great thing. Thank you all for your service, because whatever we do individually, it is what we do collectively that really counts."
McCarthy said he tries to surprise people with the award, and he said Johnson certainly seemed surprised when he presented it on Monday.
In an interview with The Daily Gazette, Johnson said she was genuinely surprised. But she said she isn't the biggest fan of receiving awards.
"I think they're nice to give to other people," Johnson said. "And I would generally choose that rather than to myself. But you know, it's quite a pleasure to receive recognition from people that you worked with for so many years."
McCarthy said they were able to get Johnson to the park under the guise that it was for the unveiling of a new sign for the park, even though he said it's up for "quite awhile."
There were other times McCarthy said they tried to give her the award, but scheduling conflicts got in the way.
McCarthy was happy with how the ceremony went on Monday.
"I'm glad everything came together today," McCarthy said. "There's great weather, a great turnout of people and [Johnson] is really a class act that's done a lot for not only the city, but for the community and the region."
Johnson moved to Schenectady in 1967 and soon became involved in the local school board and community organizations, according to a biography provided by the city. As a member of the council in 1977, she joined other residents to save Proctors from demolition and later served there as campaign development director.
She recently retired as Proctors' director of planned giving, after creating a pool of nearly 50 families who declared plans to support the theater through their estates, the city said.
Photos from her first day as mayor and the 1987 race:
"For Karen, Proctors was an expression of passion. For Proctors, it would not be what it is today without Karen’s care and passion,” Proctors CEO Philip Morris said in a prepared statement.
The Patroon Award was created on March 1, 1954, by Mayor Archibald Wemple and was originally awarded to seven former mayors. It has since been awarded to many who have contributed to the fabric of the city.
The award was given to Johnson in a park she has had a hand in helping get renovated. Camille Sasinowski, president of the Goose Hill Neighborhood Association, said Johnson made sure to keep an eye on the funding that would go into the building of the park's pavilion. It was one of many projects Johnson was apart of throughout the city, Sasinowksi said.
"She's a force to be reckoned with, but she's somebody that doesn't blow her own horn," Sasinowski said. "But today, the horn was blown for her."
After receiving the award on Monday, Steinmetz Park was still on Johnson's mind.
"Well, I appreciate people coming, but I have to say, the park looks wonderful," Johnson said. "There's been such an effort to make this such a special place."
More on her career, from 2008: Karen Johnson was elected mayor 25 years ago, Nov. 3, 2008
Some prior Patroon recipients:
- Schenectady mayor names Jordan a Patroon, March 25, 2011
- Morris, Proctors chief, named Patroon, July 14, 2011
- Cantys named city Patrons, Sept. 5, 2011
- Transfinder founder named Patroon, opens building, Oct. 10, 2013
- Ottaviano receives Patroon honor at 90th birthday bash, Jan. 11, 2014
- Schenectady advocate for victims honored as Patroon, April 10, 2014
- Two named patroons, Schenectady's highest honor, May 6, 2014
- Schenectady mayor presents Mona Golub with Patroon Award, July 28, 2014
- Schenectady police chief latest Patroon winner, Oct. 29, 2015
- Retiring Schenectady County assistant DA made a Patroon, May 4, 2016
- Retiring Schenectady finance chief gets Patroon, Aug. 2, 2016
- Sister Maria honored for 50 years of service, May 5, 2017
- Esther Swanker 'had Schenectady in her heart', Jan. 8, 2018