October 23, 2023

Johnson still marching along after 45 years in the Glenn Korff School of Music

Rose Johnson with the Cornhusker Marching Band hands out water to the band members as they return to the stands following the half time show during the NU v. Northern Illinois game.
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing

Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Rose Johnson with the Cornhusker Marching Band hands out water to the band members as they return to the stands following the half time show during the NU v. Northern Illinois game. Johnson has worked for the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for 45 years.

Rose Johnson can go just about anywhere and run into someone she’s met as part of her job.

Johnson has worked in the band office at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln for 45 years and sees current and former band students even walking down the street in other towns. Over the years, she’s watched how the collaborative environment fosters friendships between the students she works with every day.

“They are so smart, and so funny, and compassionate, and kind,” she said.

Johnson will be among the honorees at the Celebration of Service, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 27, in the Nebraska Coliseum. The celebration includes lunch for all University of Nebraska–Lincoln employees.

Tony Falcone, associate director of bands and director of the Cornhusker Marching Band, said Johnson loves the university, the band and students and provides an essential institutional memory to the program.

“Rose is the glue that holds our program together,” he said. “It’s rare that a situation will come up that Rose hasn’t seen before, and she always has sage advice to get us through things. When alumni come back to visit, she’s always their first stop.”

Johnson grew up in a musical family, with siblings who participated in the Cornhusker Marching Band. However, she didn’t feel like she had a musical talent. She pursued visual arts instead but saw how much joy music brought to her siblings and the others they worked with.

“I was extremely jealous they got do all these fun things,” she said.

After graduating with an art education degree from Nebraska, Johnson found herself unsure of her next step when her brother told her about an opening in the band office. She started in the department as a secretary for Jack Snider, director of bands at the time.

Since those early days, she’s learned that the cement floor of the Westbrook Music Building basement can dry the band’s feathered plumes and watched as communicating with the entire ensemble moved from a phone tree to the click of a button.

Her responsibilities now include scheduling festivals, camps and auditions, maintaining databases, coordinating travel and even utilizing her art degree occasionally with some graphic design.

Johnson is also one of the people who helps assign, distribute and maintain the band’s uniforms. She sat on the committee that designed the current uniforms about 17 years ago.

On home football game days, Johnson helps with uniform inspection before the game. She and her band office colleague, Jan Deaton, check to make sure buttons are sewn on tight, hats fit correctly and make sure they have all the required uniform pieces. They also provide water to the band and collect the feathered plumes from the hats. It can be as long as a 12-hour day, she said.

Johnson is also a big sports fan and loves football, so it’s special to be able spend that time with students during their game day experience. She enjoys watching the young musicians share their hard work at their first halftime performance of the season — and subsequent shows.

“They’re just grinning from ear to ear,” she said. “It’s such an experience to perform in front of that crowd. It is so big, we know they’re going to be there, and they’re invested.”

Johnson has also been able to venture outside Lincoln on trips with the band. In fact, her first plane ride was to the Orange Bowl in January 1979. She recently counted that she’s visited 39 states, and while not all of those were band trips, many were. In addition to several college campuses around the country, she was also able to visit Ireland as a staff member in 1996.

“It’s been extraordinary to see the country via the band,” she said.

Going to the Rose Bowl in 2002 was an especially memorable trip for Johnson, who has also been able to attend several national championship games. She said seeing the Rose Parade in person was so much better than watching on television.

“You don’t get the impact of the whole sensory experience,” she said. “It smells so beautiful.”

Waiting for the band at the end of the five-mile parade, she was surprised to see the students’ excitement.

“I thought the students would be exhausted when they got to the end but they weren’t, they were energized,” she said.

At the game, Johnson said many Husker fans came without tickets just to absorb the environment at the Rose Bowl stadium. She went outside to get a hot dog and a drink, but the concession stand had run out of everything down to napkins, she said.

“I said, ‘It’s the first quarter!’” she said. “And he said, ‘We were not prepared for you people.’”

Johnson’s job has given her some extraordinary experiences, she said, but on a daily basis, she gets to see the bonds students form as they work on the shared project of creating music together. She tells new students that band gives them a built-in friend group.

“They move in packs of 20,” she said.

Interacting with so many students throughout their entire time at Nebraska allows Johnson to watch them grow into young adults.

“You see the growth from a scared freshman until they start performing, and the confidence level just shoots up,” she said. “It’s amazing.”

Johnson said people sometimes ask her when she plans to retire, and she replies that it won’t be anytime soon.

“Campus is home,” she said. “That’s what it feels like. It’s where I feel comfortable.”