Shelley Johansson, director of marketing and communications for the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, developed a passion for music long before she became involved with the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival.
Johansson, 42, grew up in Nashville where a strong music scene was more a fact of life than something to be cultivated by a community.
The Grand Ole Opry House was putting out its famous weekly country music concert and the airwaves were full of traditional country artists as well as a new wave of performers that would come to be classified as alt-country.
That group included Jason & the Scorchers who were an early influence on Johansson. “I loved them as a teenager. They were really the cutting edge of alternative country.”
Long-time traditional country performers like Roger Miller and Marty Robbins were also artists she grew up admiring.
The southern experience ran deep in the early part of her life. Her parents, Betti and David Lose took her to the Florida panhandle during summers to spend time with her grandparents Bette and William Dietrich.
The family was notable for encouraging her to experience new things, explore the world and always to keep learning.
Those teachings would take a fruitful turn when she was just 18 years old and went to Sweden to visit Annika Johansson (no future relation, it’s just a common name) who spent time with her family in high school as a foreign exchange student.
The trip was her first time in Europe and she was enthralled with the country, people and culture. She also met her future husband Ola Johansson there.
“So we wound up in this summer romance that never really went away. But when you’re 18 years old you don’t really think in those long terms. But it reached a point over the years where it was, you know, ‘Oh my God, you’re the one,’” she laughed.
While the summer romance was set to simmer, she studied at Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., and earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature. She then went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., for her master’s degree in communication and public relations.
Ola Johansson joined her there while working on his doctorate in geography.
So the move to Johnstown was an obvious choice for a young couple looking for a decent halfway point between Sweden and Nashville. Actually, (small joke aside) in 1998, Ola Johansson was hired by the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown to teach geography. He is still with Pitt-Johnstown as an associate professor.
Shelley Johansson, for her part, found a job with the heritage association.
“I am really blessed to work with a group of wonderful, dedicated people,” she said. “Everything that I do is part of a team. That’s something to be very proud of.”
Johnstown, it turned out, offered a brand new and exciting set of experiences and cultures for the couple to explore. Pierogi, haluski and a host of other eastern European traditions were all new to them. The community also had a burgeoning museum and music culture, which appealed greatly.
“It was a wonderful thing coming into this community (at that time). There are a host of things that make this a special place to live,” she said.
They return to Sweden as often as possible and are sharing their unique experiences with the next generation now.
The couple has a daughter Linnea — turning 8 years old in October — who they have tried to raise with an eclectic mix of cultures.
She often thinks of her grandmother growing up in an orphanage in Mississippi during the Great Depression. Not too long ago she heard her talk about her desire to read some classic literature she’d missed out on earlier in life.
“They were just very open-minded people. They never stopped learning and laughing,” Johansson said.
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