Michael “Mike” Johnson hears the word “volunteer” and it is music to his ears. Johnson has served on about 39 non-profit boards, many from the conception. He is all about rolling up his sleeves and jumping right in. “God has blessed me in so many ways, I’ve always felt I should give back. In my heart, I’ve always had a willingness to serve,” Johnson says, easing back in a chair at his law office late Sunday afternoon.
Folks in Central Louisiana say that Johnson, a Pineville attorney, embodies the Rotarians’ best known motto: “Service above self,” which explains why he is the recipient of the 2015 Rotary Service Above Self Award. “I don’t help others for fame or recognition. I actually get blessed when I am helping others,” Johnson notes. That attitude has shaped his life and guided him in business endeavors, Johnson says. As a Pineville High School student working after school as a grocery store stocker, Johnson learned early on that service “means everything” in the business world. “Working there taught me more educational components about the real world and people than anything,” recalls Johnson.
In high school, Johnson was on the debate team and played on the basketball team, and later started working as an activity director at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Alexandria. After graduating, Johnson attended Louisiana College in Pineville, the place where he would meet his future bride, Sheila. “One of my best friends was dating her college roommate. We met my junior year at LC, and married right after graduation,” Johnson said with a big grin.
It was at LC where Johnson decided he wanted to pursue a career in public service and thought law was a perfect fit for him. During college, he continued to work at Emmanuel and also clerked at the law office of his former Sunday School teacher, Jay Bolen, an attorney in Alexandria. He received his bachelor’s degree from LC in 1981 in public administration and earned his juris doctorate in 1984 from Southern University School of Law.
Like Mike, Sheila Johnson, who currently teaches at Pineville Junior High, also graduated from LC, earning a degree in health and physical education, and later a master’s degree from Louisiana State University. While an athlete standout as a two-time All-American on the LC Lady Wildcats basketball team, Sheila would return to LC as a coach in 1985 where she led the girls basketball team to a national championship. Her coaching career took a stellar path and later she even became the athletic director at LC. In 2006, Sheila was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
While in Baton Rouge, Mike worked as a law clerk for the Louisiana State Senate in the Constitutional law section. After graduation from law school, the couple moved back to Alexandria and Johnson started working for Bolen’s law firm again. Within four years, he was a partner with the law firm of Bolen, Erwin and Johnson. “That was a significant event in my life,” recalls Johnson. By 1997, Johnson established his own law firm, Johnson, Siebeneicher & Ingram, where he still practices today. The law firm specializes in litigation of civil defense with an emphasis in areas of insurance, education, school and business law. In both his personal and professional life, Johnson has been a mover and shaker in the community. His resume highlights decades of “giving back” in causes and programs he cares about. Currently, Johnson serves as president of the North Rapides Business & Industry Alliance.
Mike is also the founding president of the Rapides Children’s Advocacy Center and the founding president of CASA. In 1996, the Johnson’s two children, Lacey and Matthew, were small. When Johnson found out about the level of abuse and neglect of some children in the area, he wanted to do something about it. “I had small kids and not really aware of the level of abuse of children in our area. The advocacy center and CASA are some of the most important things, to me, that I helped to develop,” says Johnson, who has a heart for children’s causes. The mission of the advocacy center is to help heal and champion abused and neglected children throughout Central Louisiana.
Johnson is a former president of the Central Louisiana Chamber of Commerce and donated his time to serve as the attorney for the Rapides Parish School Board in helping to end a 40-year-old desegregation lawsuit against the district. He has served on numerous boards to help children and others including: Renaissance Home for Youth, the Salvation Army, Crossroads Riding Center for Troubled Youth, United Way and the Child Abuse Fatalities Review Board. Committed to public service, Johnson currently serves on the board of directors for the Alexandria Museum of Art, the Rapides Symphony and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. He is a former commissioner of the Louisiana State Police Commission and a founding board member for the T.R.E.E. House Children’s Museum.
Both Johnson and his wife have been selected as Louisiana College Distinguished Alumni Award recipients. In addition, they have both received accolades through the years for their volunteer and community work. When they are not working or volunteering their time, they are enjoying their new favorite pastime, holding their newborn grandson, James.
The Johnsons plan to continue to give back in any way they can. “I think God gives us opportunities and that’s when our faith kicks in. We can choose to do something about it or look the other way,” says Mike, adding, “but the effort that you give to help someone will return to you hundred-fold.”