Former Kentucky State Parks Commissioner and local businessman Ewart W. Johnson died May 24 in Clearwater, Fla.
Johnson, 89, a Winchester native, is best known for his role in the construction of Fort Boonesborough at Boonesborough State Park. His obituary lists his involvement as “one of his favorite projects.” According to the park’s website, the reconstruction of Daniel Boone’s fort was dedicated Aug. 30, 1974.
During his tenure as commissioner from 1971 to 1975, the Kentucky Horse Park also was founded.
Life-long friend Nick Nicholson, president of the Keeneland Association, praised Johnson’s work for the Kentucky Department of Parks, and his efficient style of management.
“He was very proud of the fact he cut the administrative costs of the department by more than $1 million. It’s very popular these days to talk about the cost of government, but he was a pioneer in that area,” Nicholson said. “He took his business acumen to Frankfort, and ran the state parks department as you would a business.”
Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner spoke of the increased tourism in Clark County and the surrounding area because of Fort Boonesborough, the Civil War Fort and the Fort Boonesborough State Park.
“It’s huge. It’s a major tourist attraction for Madison and Clark counties. It is a place where there are events practically every weekend. Their tourist draw is national. It’s been a major tourist option for not only people in Kentucky, but people nationwide,” Burtner said.
In addition to his work with the Department of Parks, Johnson was active at St. Joseph Catholic Church until moving to Clearwater, Fla., in 1985, according to his obituary. In Florida, he became an active member of St. Brendan Catholic Church. Nicholson said Johnson also enjoyed volunteering at St. Agatha Academy, when the school had high school students.
Nicholson described Johnson as a role model for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“He started out with his wife selling pimento cheese sandwiches out of the back of a truck, and he would sell them to the Curlee Clothes People,” Nicholson said.
Eventually, Johnson’s vending machine business, Automatic Vending Company, became a mult-million dollar enterprise, with headquarters in Winchester, Nicholson said. He also owned Office Coffee Systems.
“He was a businessman here in town, and very highly regarded here in town,” Burtner said.
Johnson was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Matilda Shea Johnson; daughter, Barbara Tarr; daughter and son-in-law Margie and Bob Ashcraft; and great-granddaughter Lucy Sanders.
He is survived by his two sons, E.W. Johnson Jr. (Sue) and Robert J. Johnson (Kathy), and a son-in-law, Jack Tarr. Complete obituary information appears on A2.