Posted by Michela Swarthout

Russell Johnson

I first met Russell Johnson of the Rotary Club of Idaho Falls at an AG training last February. Barely five years into Rotary, I felt out of place surrounded by leaders with decades of Rotary experience that I hadn’t yet formed relationships with. After the meeting though, Russell, a Rotarian of 25 years, introduced himself. Instead of giving me the “young professional” spiel, he introduced himself and spoke to me like we both had the same level of knowledge and experience to contribute. The next time we met, a month later at PETs, he greeted me with a hug. We later sat next to each other at dinner and have been buds ever since. Russell is the kind of person you only have to meet once to feel comfortable around because he is genuine and open, which I’m guessing is one of the reasons he was drawn to Rotary.

Russell’s first Rotary meeting occurred as the result of an invite from banker Don McKay in 1993. He was initially attracted to the organization for its pool of higher-tier business professionals but it’s apparent that Rotary has brought him even more than that over the last 25 years. “It was the international projects that brought on my Rotary Moment,” he says. “Little clubs like Idaho Falls can make such a huge difference on a national scale, and quickly.”

Two particular international projects that profoundly affected him were their relief efforts for Tokaimura, Japan after its 2011 tsunami, which took only 60 days to generate $30,000 in RI grants and donations to send over solar-powered generators, and the food packing project for earthquake-devastated Haiti in 2014. He was the President of his club at the time and, partnering local potato distributors, sent 1,000,000 meals to Haiti. No, that isn’t a typo. 1,000,000 meals!

Like the solar-powered generators, Russell seeks project approaches that provide sustainable outcomes. His club came together and raised funds to purchase the costly equipment necessary to run a mobile dental unit. Operated by dedicated area dental professionals, the unit is still offering free dental services to rural areas like Salmon, Challis, Idaho Falls and Rexburg today.

Outside of Rotary, Russell loves downhill skiing, waterskiing and traveling the world. He is an avid fly fisherman of 32 years who has had the opportunity to fish in four different continents. “It’s not a professional thing, just a bunch of drunken buddies,” he laughs.

So, what’s in store for his ’21-’22 Governor appointment? “I want to be remembered for leading an organization that is forward-thinking and maintains the heritage of its past. I want our Rotarians to impact the world quicker, faster and better, and to bring in younger and motivated membership. My key word is ‘engagement’, for both members and non-members,” he muses. “I’m a fun, regular guy who just wants to have fun with all Rotarians.”

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to Russell and congratulate him on his appointment. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to meet him, I hope you do. You’ll not only gain the attentive ear of someone who takes action; you’ll meet a new friend who genuinely cares for others and is truly a joy to be around.