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Maxine Johnston, LU’s 2019 Homecoming Parade Grand Marshal

Maxine Johnston, former director of the Mary and John Gray Library and tireless advocate for conservation of the Big Thicket, has been chosen as the 2019 Lamar University Homecoming Parade Grand Marshal. 

Maxine in the Big Thicket
Maxine in the Big Thicket

Expect to see Johnston leading the parade on Homecoming Day, Sep. 28. The parade, which steps off at 2 p.m., is the centerpiece of an afternoon of activities including Homecoming FanFest, Big Red’s Ride Classic & Antique Car Show and Art Extravaganza. All of these activities lead up to kickoff of the Lamar Cardinals vs. Stephen F. Austin football game at 6 p.m.

Lamar University President, Ken Evans said it’s fitting that Johnston, who has been a leader in the community most of her life, should now lead LU’s parade.

“Maxine Johnston’s contributions to our community, and to Lamar University, because of her service as our librarian for so many years, are extraordinary,” said Evans. “We’re grateful to her and hope that others come to understand our grand marshal’s leadership and many accomplishments that benefit us all.”

Johnston, 90, became interested in the Big Thicket when she was fourteen years old.  Her teacher at South Park High School suggested she write about its folklore and that assignment led to Johnston’s fascination and life’s work, protecting and expanding the area.

Maxine with Charlie Wilson
Maxine with Charlie Wilson

Her lifelong advocacy has, along with other achievements, resulted in the creation and expansion of the Big Thicket National Preserve, a jewel of the National Park System.  Johnston and her colleagues built a broad coalition of people pressing for federal legislation to create a national park. In October 1974, President Gerald Ford signed PL 94-439 to establish the Big Thicket National Preserve (BTNP), the first National Preserve in the National Park System. 

The 112,000-acre Big Thicket is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, one steeped in the history of early Texas.

“Maxine Johnston is a local legend, an inspiration, a real force for preservation of the Big Thicket,” says Evans. “Because of her concentrated efforts to acquire land and preserve the Big Thicket, Southeast Texans have this natural resource that distinguishes our region and provides an outdoor venue for sports and entertainment not to mention research and education.”

Johnston’s contributions to LU have been and continue to be significant. After graduating high school, Johnston became a librarian at Tyrrell Public Library while taking classes at Lamar College. She went on to complete her Bachelor of Science at Sam Houston State University and achieve her Master of Library Science at the University of Texas in 1958.

While finishing her course work at UT, Johnston began working as LU’s reference librarian in the Mary and John Gray Library in 1955.  By 1970 she was the associate director. In 1974 she was awarded the Texas Librarian of the Year Award and in 1980 Johnston was named director. In this post, Johnston’s passion for the Big Thicket and her position at Lamar University converged. She created a unique archive at Lamar University documenting many aspects of the Big Thicket, including the industries of the region, its folklore and its place in Texas history, with a special emphasis on documenting the long history of preservation efforts for this special region. To this day, Johnston volunteers weekly in the Special Collections of the library. She is also a very generous donor to Lamar University. 

Maxine at the Library
Maxine in the LU Library

Johnston has seen her mission realized and since has remained an active member of the Big Thicket Association and Big Thicket National Heritage Trust. She has published articles on her work with the Thicket region, has received numerous awards for her work including the NPCA’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Citizen Conservationist of the Year in 1996, Texas Legacy Project and the Beaumont Enterprise Jefferson Award as well as awards from the Kodak American Greenways, Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club and Texas Conservation Alliance. She is also the recipient of the 2018 Terry Hershey Award by Audubon's Texas Women in Conservation Program.

Johnston has been a member of the Big Thicket Association since 1964, serving twice as its president (1972-75 and 1994-98). She also served in 1994-96 as a member of the State Executive Committee of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter to press for statewide public health, habitat and wildlife protection.

To celebrate her 90th birthday, Johnston hiked through the Big Thicket accompanied by her fellow conservationists.

For more information about LU 2019 Homecoming, visit www.lamar.edu/homecoming.