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Wendy Johnson: A Lasting Legacy

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As is true for so many folks in our region, Wendy Johnson’s ancestors arrived in California from Europe to try their luck in the Gold Rush. But the Wagner family’s success ended up being attached to textiles rather than precious metals. Jacob and Charles Wagner set up a leather tannery business, Pacific Tannery, in 1856, and for many years it operated at the head of McLeod Lake at El Dorado and Oak Streets. The business first used oak trees from around the Mokelumne River for their work, but eventually shifted this practice to Humboldt, taking the tan bark from those trees and shipping it down the coast to the harbor in Stockton. Eventually, the tannery closed, but the building that housed the tannery’s machine works, located on Hunter and Oak Streets, remains standing, and the family business as it exists today, Wagner Land Company, is currently converting that space into mini storage.

“It’s incredible to watch my son be part of that new legacy, as one of his responsibilities working for our family’s business is to oversee our downtown project,” said Wendy. The fifth-generation Stocktonian, mother to two girls, Melissa and Katlyn, and two boys, Zachary and Charlie, and grandmother to four grandchildren, reflects fondly on her family’s history here, and she has made sure to stress the importance of that local connection to her family.

Sharing History
She was also able to instill some love for regional history in local students. Wendy attended USC, studying education and working in Southern California for a few years after graduation. She later returned to Stockton to get her teaching credential from University of the Pacific, going on to teach for four years at Lodi Unified. “It was the most incredible thing to be able to mold the minds of children,” she smiled. She taught fourth and fifth grades and especially enjoyed teaching California history. But her primary focus soon shifted to motherhood, a full-time job in itself.
“Raising kids is not easy and it’s not for the weak,” she laughed. “But it’s incredibly rewarding! My husband and I made plenty of mistakes when raising our children but one thing we know for certain is that we placed an emphasis on family, instilled faith into everyday life, and made lots of memories together.” And family is still of the utmost importance to her now that she’s a grandmother.

“I’m a Mimi, and my husband’s a Pop,” she described. The best part of having grandkids? It’s just plain fun. She hopes to have the same impact on her grandchildren as her own grandmother had on her life. “She taught me how to make doughnuts, we picked huckleberries together, and her love for gardening and flowers rubbed off on me! When you’re a parent, you don’t always have time for that kind of stuff. I want to tuck all those memories into their hearts and I want that to be my legacy.”

Parenting Transitions
Wendy also finds it interesting to see how much things have changed for parents. On a personal level, she observes it within her own family. “I watch my daughters raising their kids and one thing I notice and wish I had done was to talk less and listen more.” And in general, she notes that the digital age we reside in presents new hardships for moms. “I think new mothers need to give themselves a break,” she urged. “There’s so much pressure today, especially on social media, all these mamas posting perfect everything. Life is messy, beautiful, fun and hard, and nobody ever posts their bad days.”

It’s a contrast to the news cycle, which can seem all bad, all the time. But Wendy is all about embracing all of life’s moments, and she applies that mindset toward Stockton, too, thinking back fondly on wonderful childhood memories here, such as the Astro Slide in Lincoln Center, while envisioning how the city can keep moving forward while paying tribute to its storied past.

“The greatest part of Stockton are the people,” she sai1d. “I really feel that is one of Stockton’s greatest assets. It’s the community and the small businesses.” And, of course, she loves the waterfront, and not just because her family’s history, as well as the city’s history, is so strongly tied to that area. She just finds it beautiful and a reminder of the ways in which the city is capable of growing and changing.

“It’s very important for our family to remain active in Stockton,” she affirmed. “I want Stockton to be successful. This city is too important.”