Ann Johnson takes a moment to enjoy a late September morning by the shores of Keewaydin Lake in Stoneham. Pamela Chodosh Buy this Photo


Ann Johnson has had a long career in the field of learning disabilities (LD). Now 78, she has a blog called “Teaching Rocks to Swim.” It is about her experiences, both personal and professional, which she hopes will become a book. A full-time Stoneham resident since 2004, Johnson has lived with Bernice Martin for many years. They married in 2013.
I grew up in Winthrop, Massachusetts. My dad was a coppersmith at Boston Naval Shipyard. He then worked with his brother in plumbing and heating until his brother died.
One night when my mother was trying to braid a rug she said, “There must be a better way.” My father went downstairs and came up with a newly invented braider. They started manufacturing his flat braiders in their home. When they needed a business address, they got a little place, which blossomed into a yard goods store.
I was pretty athletic. I did a lot of biking all around the town and played girls’ basketball. I tried to play tennis, but I was not good at that. When all the kids went off to school, I was sent to a local kindergarten. Then because the school sometimes skipped kids to the 2nd grade, I was in the 2nd grade.
I was pretty much lost at school. I had a relatively severe learning disability. Though I had trouble with words, it was more pronounced with mathematics. It also affected writing. It was a processing problem that disrupted my acquisition of all academic subjects.
My senior year, I was rescued by a teacher named Mr. Colby. Because I was in college curriculum classes, I was required to take two mini math classes. Three or four weeks into the first class, which was on things like adding, subtracting and decimal points, Mr. Colby said, “I see you don’t know how to do long division. You should come to see me after school.”
I went to his room, and he gave me some problems. I worked on them, but everything was wrong. The next day it was the same scenario. He’d go through the problems, and I’d say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Every day the problems were all wrong. This went on for weeks.
One day he pulled a hair out of his head and said, “I am not going to lose any more. Do you have a slide rule?” I asked my dad when I got home. Half an hour later he came up with a dusty old box and a slide rule in it.
I took it to Mr. Colby the next day. He showed me how to line up the numbers. I caught on to that quickly. He looked at me and said, “You can’t be as stupid as your grades reflect.”
Mr. Colby started talking to me about college, which had not entered my mind. I had heard a woman say that she was studying religious education at West Virginia College. I thought maybe I could go there.
My grades were not the kind that would get me into college. Mr. Colby wrote to the dean at West Virginia College and told him to ignore my grades. That was how I got to college.
West Virginia College was a very small school right in the geographical center of the state. Though I was 16, it was a good place for me.
Mr. Colby had taught me mnemonics, but I didn’t really know how to study until my college roommate taught me. She would study for a test and then read the next chapter just for the hell of it. One day she cleared my desk off and said, “You can’t study like this.” She was a good role model.
I ended up doing a double major in psychology and religious education. After college, I went to West Virginia University and got a Master’s in Psychology. I got married and moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I worked for a church as their director of religious education. Then I got a job doing psychiatric testing at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, at the University of Pittsburgh’s teaching hospital.
During college, I’d gotten a job as a counselor at Camp Trebor, which was in Fryeburg. It was no ordinary camp. It was a value-centered place with an emphasis on creativity and the idea that everybody could play and everybody could win. Also, practicing democracy was taught. There were cabin meetings and there were votes. If the kids made bad decisions, they had to live with them. The experience was profound for me.
In the early 60s, Camp Trebor moved from Fryeburg to Stoneham to where Camp Susan Curtis is. I quit my job in Pittsburgh and came back to work at the camp. My husband at the time got a job teaching at Portland School of Art. We had a home in Limington.
Even after the camp closed in the early 70s, I would spend time at the dam on Keewaydin Lake. When a house nearby became available, my husband and I bought it. After we divorced, he got the house in Limington and I got the one in Stoneham.
Though I worked as a licensed psychiatric examiner when I came to Maine, I became distressed that all I could do was assessment. After I complained once again to a friend, she suggested I get a Ph.D. I did.
In the late ’80s. I applied to Antioch University New England in Keene, New Hampshire. Because of a study, they were not looking at entrance scores until a person graduated. I had to say I had a learning disability, in the admissions process, but the person interviewing me said, “I am going to give you a chance.”
From ’90 to ’94, I was in Antioch’s academic program. Then I went to Kansas State University where I finished my Doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D). I became a staff psychologist who supported minority students, athletes and learning disabled student and had a regular clinic practice.
I stayed for 10 years. Then In 2004, I retired and moved to Stoneham. I decided I did not want to die in Kansas.
Though my association with the Greater Lovell Land Trust has been very important, my camp experience created a psychological and spiritual home for me. I feel that home here.

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