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Colleen Kelly Johnston

You may read Colleen's words here.

Colleen Kelly Johnston was a native-born Kansan of Irish heritage. Her grandparents homesteaded a ranch on the Kansas-Oklahoma border. She was born Oct. 21, 1932, in Wichita and died August 18, 2012.

Her friend and fellow writer Diane Wahto wrote in her memory, My Friend Colleen.

Colleen's daughter, Kerry Johnston, wrote, "She had an indomitable spirit. She was fiercely independent and respected all people and wanted that respect returned for everyone. She was an enemy of any kind of discrimination. I never doubted her resolve or wondered why she was doing it. She was a humanist and it was the right thing to do. She and Dad are both that way."

Colleen told us that she had enjoyed writing for as long as she could remember. Her first poem won a first place and was published in 1949. Colleen wrote one of the first columns on consumer awareness for The New Newspaper and The Prairie Journal in Kansas and has written columns and articles on women's rights and political issues for local and national publications.

Her book on political activism for volunteers was published in 1985. Colleen's first book of poetry and memoirs, Stepping Stones: Moments in a Woman's Life, was published in 2000. In the years before her death, she was currently working on a collection of short stories and a poetry chapbook, The Gospel According to Me.

"As a progressive-liberal egalitarian woman I make it my responsibility to be a lightning rod and citizen activist for women and all those discriminated against for any reason," she said in a recent interview about her social and political positions. "If one of my adversaries call me a bitch, I consider I am accomplishing my purpose."

Colleen was a dedicated progressive democrat. Her son Kelly is the Sedgwick County Democratic Chair and a daughter, Casey, ran for State Representative. As Casey said recently, "we (she and her five siblings) were raised in political campaigns and can put together a candidate mailing and be ready to go in a short time." All six children are dedicated to liberal political causes.

Married to retired trial attorney, James P. Johnston who studies and speaks on political assassinations of the 20th Century, Colleen often wrote letters to the editor. Her letters have appeared the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and newspapers in Albuquerque, Seattle and other publications. Being a Wichitan, she principally is read in the Wichita Eagle and was once banned from being published there because of the heat of her letter regarding leading women executives being housed on cots in a barn at a businessmen's weekend while the men were put up in a motel.

Perhaps Colleen's most significant life's work is her feminist activities. Colleen was co-founder of the Wichita Chapter of the National Organization for Women -- in which she held many offices -- and later served as a member of that organization 's national board. She was a founder of the Women's Political Caucus in Kansas and the Women's Equality Coalition in 1976, and the Democratic Women's Task Force in Kansas. She was an organizer of the National Council of Neighborhood Women as well. Colleen served as a delegate to the National Women's Congress and served as the Security Director of their conference in 1977. In addition, she was co-founder and served as Vice President of the ProChoice Action League.

Colleen was the Director of Kansas NOW operations during the 1991 so-called Summer of Mercy. She also has been a member of the Women's Equality Coalition, the Women's Political Caucus and the National Council of Women's Organizations. She was chosen Woman of the Year for the Equality Coalition and the Kansas Women in Communication.

In service to Wichita, Colleen has served on the Inner City Task Force, Historic Landmark Preservation Committee, Wichita Traffic Commission, Citizen's Participation Organization, both neighborhood council and Central Council. She was awarded Citizen of the Year by the Midtown Citizen's Organization served on the Kansas Governmental Ethics Committee.

Colleen served on the original board of the Kansas Writers Association and continued as a board member for six years as Chair, treasurer, member-at-large and director of KWA's annual writing competition. She was also a member of the Kansas Author's Club. Her poetry and fiction have won national, local and state competitions and have appeared on the web and in publications such as Ha! Magazine, The Exquisite Ghost, Artemis' Arrow, Tonight Cassandra, Used Ink, Women of the Plains and Words From the Flatlands, Collage, Heart's Design and others.

We are so fortunate that Colleen wrote with us at both the Kansas Free Press and Everyday Citizen. It was truly an honor to have such a passionate community servant and accomplished writer among us.

We encourage you to read her archives here.


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