Colleen Otto Johnson hails from the Carolinas, growing up on the coast of North Carolina and raising her family in Charleston, South Carolina. She attended Central Florida University and graduated from the College of Charleston with degrees in education and psychology. She moved to Greenville, South Carolina when she married Dr. George Johnson, who was later recruited to OSF HealthCare in Peoria. He retired from OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois as a pediatric infectious disease physician in 2018.
Besides serving as executive director of the Peoria Historical Society, Colleen is involved with several area organizations, including the IVY Club, Peoria Symphony Orchestra and the Moss Bradley Residential Association. She and George live on Moss Avenue with their beautiful pit bull, Reilly. She has five stepsons, all living in the southeast, and one son, David, who moved to Peoria last January with his wife Ashley and their puppy Kiki.
Her current journey as a caregiver for George, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, has been challenging but fulfilling. “In many ways I’ve lived a charmed life,” Colleen explains. “I’ve been able to travel and have adventures. I’ve loved and been loved deeply. I have a wonderful family and have been so happy.” She listens to music constantly, loves watching PBS and has always been addicted to sci-fi shows like The X-Files and Star Trek.
- Who or what inspires you? Three men I adore: my husband George because of his capacity to love; my son David for his wisdom, sense of responsibility and intellect; and my brother Dan, for his sense of humor and always having my back to get me through trying times.
- My life is… unusual. My son David and his wife Ashley moved here this year to help us live fully while dealing with George’s progression of Alzheimer’s disease. And, they are having a baby! Three generations living together is unusual in the States, but common around the world. We are thriving and fortunate that we all really like each other.
- Favorite occupation: Executive director of the Peoria Historical Society, of course! I work with some of the smartest people in Peoria, I help raise money, and I get to share the rich history that helps people love living here.
- What song always makes you happy when you hear it? “I Wish,” by Stevie Wonder. I can do some serious dancing to Stevie Wonder.
- What talent would you most like to have? I’d love to be able to sing. I would sing constantly! I have a bad voice and sing anyway.
- What is the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome? Not finishing college the first time around. I went back in my 30s and was one of the only nontraditional students. I loved it and finished with a 4.0!
- What animal are you the most like? My pit bull, Reilly. She loves people like l do. We both live for our friends and family.
- What social issue fires you up? Discrimination of any kind—racism, misogyny, etc.
- What always makes you smile? I smile every time I think of my family and I couldn’t die without seeing grandchildren. My granddaughter is due the week of my birthday!
- Greatest challenge: Accepting that my brilliant husband has this disease that will take his mind. PM