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Portrait of a Hero - Wendell

We are all hero's in one way or another!  To me a hero is someone that can face challenges and rise above them.  It doesn't have to be dramatic or make the news headlines.  Small and simple acts can be very heroic!  'Portrait of a Hero' is a feature I will do ever so often about physically limited people or their caregivers.  

When I first came up with the idea of doing 'Portrait of a Hero' the first person that came to my mind was my old Sunday School teacher.  Wendell B Johnson was unable to come to the church to teach us, so we went to his home which was just down the street.  I was about 14 years old.  His courage and strength, his love for Christ soon strengthened my own testimony!  Little did I know that many years later, when I myself would become physically limited that he would become my Hero in a more realistic sense. 

“When I paint, I forget about being handicapped”…”I am pulled into the dimensions of the canvas before me and I feel free.”
- Wendell B. Johnson

As you look at his art work, you may ask yourself, "What type of handicap does Wendell have?"  Following are some excerpts from the biography written my his daughter, Wendy S Johnson Roberts:

A thunderhead was approaching in the heat of an August day, lending an ominous tone to the afternoon. Wendell Johnson was swimming with a group of his friends after a hard day of hauling hay in the gorgeous fields of Mapleton, Utah. As he stood on the embankment ready to dive into the canal, he felt an odd shiver but didn’t pause. Instead, he dove headfirst toward the middle of the canal where the water was deep and cool. At sixteen years age, as his position inexplicably changed in midair, he could not have guessed that life was about to take a drastic turn for the worse. Everyone living in the small rural town of Mapleton at the time remembered what happened that day, August 18, 1964. 

The water was muddy, concealing a shallow shelf of clay close to the edge of the water. As Wendell finished what should have been a graceful dive into the depths of the canal, he instead rammed headfirst into the unseen shelf. Immediately he heard a sickening snap and felt absolutely nothing from his neck down. He struggled to swim, but there was no response from his body. The current was dragging him, tossing him helplessly face down in the water. His lungs were quickly becoming starved for air, and he realized that he was about to die. There was nothing he could do as a sound, a rushing in his ears, grew and then faded. His life flashed before his eyes…

At school, Wendell had a growing love and talent for art. Even as young as Kindergarten, his artistic tendencies were highly developed. In his autobiography, he stated that instead of fighting the bullies over the much contested building blocks, he would casually spend his recess in the sunny corner of the schoolroom painting with the otherwise ignored and unused easels and paints. Gradually, he became renowned for his artistic prowess and was intricately involved in specialized school projects like murals and paintings. His interest grew, and by high school he was determined to become an architect—the best way to blend his the knowledge of construction that he learned from his father, and his artistic talent fostered by his mother.

That dream was now shattered, as he lay helpless in the water, fighting a losing battle for his life. Suddenly, he felt himself rising. His friend, Ted Cloward, had noticed his limp body, and pulled him from the muddied water. Several friends joined in to drag Wendell onto the dirt road as they waited endlessly for help to arrive. The city ambulance, an Edsel in unquestionably shabby condition, finally arrived and Wendell was agonizingly loaded into the back, only to find that the Edsel would not start up again. It was pushed along the bumpy mountain roads until the engine finally turned over, starting a nightmarish drive to Salt Lake in the days before I-15. It was two hours of searing pain, reinforced with every bump on the road until he reached the hospital. Wendell had always hated the sound of sirens, and now the sirens announced his own misfortune as he was ushered into the kind of crisis that few people ever face.


Upon arrival at Holy Cross hospital, Wendell was immediately wheeled to the emergency room. There, x-rays showed that his neck had been fractured and the spinal cord severed between the fifth and sixth vertebrae. He was now quadriplegic – completely paralyzed from the neck down. 


Wendell faced years of painful learn how he rose above them to become a renowned artist, Justice of the Peace and then Mayor of Mapleton,  click HERE  
This link will lead you to a site that tells his story, shows his art work and much more.  I hope you will gain courage and strength in your own life as you read and learn more about Wendell B Johnson.

Note: Photos and excerpts were done with permission of  Wendy S Johnson Roberts


Tanya Ferguson said...
What a story and such beautiful paintings...thanks for sharing...Love you Becky

Amee said...
Hi, I am Stumbiling on you from

Grace said...
What a great idea to show case people that rose above their handicap in life. Truly and inspiring story and a wonderful artist.

Bryna B. Rodan + Fields Dermatologists said...
Very Inspiring. (-: and I stumbled you!

Daria @ Mom in Management said...
Did you get a new header? It looks great! Daria

WheelchairDecor said...
Daria, Yes I did...thanks. I wanted something more inviting that included the calmness of nature!

WheelchairDecor said...
Copy/Paste from email: Aloha Becky, Thank you! I am very touched that you thought of him as your hero. Thank you for posting the story! I am glad you are inspiring others through sharing these profiles and through your own life & struggles. I know it is not easy, and I admire people like you who can keep a positive attitude in the face of extraordinary challenges – it is a wonderful thing that you are striving to help others. I would like to link to your blog from the links page of I think it will be neat to see who you post in the times to come, and it would certainly help others to see what you are doing. Best wishes to you! Wendy

allenaim photography and design said...
Wow...absolutely incredible...

Grace said...
I came to this post and thought my dad is my hero. Then I thought, my dad is in a wheelchair so go shopping for him Grace in Becky's Etsy Store. I'm sure you have something masculine there that he will like.

Garah said...
That is such a touching story. Such a talented man.

Debra said...
What an amazing portrait of a hero! Wendell B. Johnson is a man I’m delighted to meet. Look how his courage and strength and love of Christ strengthened your own testimony! Meet your newest follower. Hope you’ll swing by and visit me too. Company is always welcome at my place. I just wrote about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, and how watching this movie as a child was a defining moment for me.


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