Elna Johnson, longtime co-publisher of The Holyoke Enterprise, received the Nebraska Press Association’s highest honor Friday, April 17, when she was named Master Editor-Publisher.
She received the award in front of her peers at the Nebraska Press Convention held in Lincoln, Neb., last weekend.
The announcement of the award came as a total shock. “I had no idea,” she said in accepting the award, which was presented by Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.
After the announcement, she was joined on stage by a host of family and friends.
Elna Johnson, pictured second from right, accepts the Master Editor-Publisher award at the Nebraska Press Association convention in Lincoln, Neb., Friday, April 17. Pictured from left are Johnson’s daughters, Brenda Brandt and Lori Pankonin, Johnson and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who presented the award.
—Johnson Publications photo
This marks the first time in the 44-year history of the award that a woman publisher has been honored.
It also marks the first time the award has been conferred to both members of a husband-wife publishing team. Johnson’s late husband and co-publisher, Loral Johnson, received the honor in 2001.
The couple was also the first husband-wife team to serve as NPA presidents. Loral was NPA president in 1981, followed by Elna in 1993.
In 1990, Elna was honored by the National Newspaper Association with the Emma C. McKinney award. This award represents the association’s highest award to newspaper women who have exhibited distinguished service to the community press.
Purchased Imperial Republican in 1968
The Johnsons published newspapers in Holyoke and Imperial, Grant and Wauneta, Neb., from 1968 to 1999.
Loral began working at The Imperial Republican in 1952 while Elna attended Central Business College in Denver. The Wiggins High School sweethearts were married in April 1954 and made Imperial their home.
In her early days at the paper, she ran the Linotype hot lead machine to set type.
The couple purchased their first paper, The Imperial Republican, in 1968 from Ruth Naylor.
It was then that Elna joined the paper full time. She was involved in the weekly operation from the business management side.
In 1977, within a period of several months, Johnson Publications Inc. became a three-newspaper operation.
They purchased The Holyoke Enterprise in March from Max and Hazel Starbuck.
In July, they purchased The Grant Tribune-Sentinel from Allan Fillingham.
In 1982, they added the Wauneta Breeze to their family of newspapers.
The Johnsons continued to operate the organization until 1999, when children Lori and Russ Pankonin and Brenda Brandt purchased Johnson Publications Inc. from them.
Throughout their journalism careers, Elna and Loral were active in the NPA, attending many district, state and national press conventions and functions. They never missed a state NPA convention during their tenure as owners.
Service to community
As publishers, the Johnsons placed a high priority on service to their community.
During her career and subsequent retirement, Elna has been a devoted member of the Imperial First United Methodist Church, serving in a number of leadership roles.
Her belief in the future of Imperial is evidenced by her strong passion and work for the Imperial Community Foundation Fund, and she presently serves as chair.
In 2009, Elna and Elsie Newman led a successful drive to obtain a $50,000 matching grant for the foundation by raising $150,000.
In addition to those activities, Elna has been an active member of Eastern Star and Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge and a volunteer at the Chase County Food Pantry and Meals on Wheels.
Children in the business
Loral and Elna raised four children — Brenda, Randy, Lori and Kurt. Three of the four have pursued newspaper careers.
Brenda is publisher of The Holyoke Enterprise and co-owner of Johnson Publications.
Randy works in the fire prevention sales and service industry in Olathe, Kan.
Lori and her husband, Russ Pankonin, serve as co-publishers of The Imperial Republican, The Grant Tribune-Sentinel and The Wauneta Breeze, and are co-owners of Johnson Publications with Brenda.
Kurt and his wife, Paula, own and operate the Aurora News-Register newspaper in Aurora, Neb.
Holyoke Enterprise April 23, 2015