By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
Want more top stories? Sign up here for daily or weekly newsletters with our top news.
Johnson grew up in Port Angeles with her grandmother, Karen Beck, and her great uncle, Warren Stevens, as the most important adults in her life. Her mother, Tawny Johnson, died when Savannah was just 10.
Stevens has always been impressed with his great-niece's character.
“Ever since she lost her mom,” he said, “she's taken it upon herself to set goals in her life . . . she's done that on her own.”
Now, Johnson is working toward a business degree, as the recipient of both the Peninsula College Longhouse Scholarship and the Adeline Smith Memorial Fund Scholarship, an award honoring the late Lower Elwha Klallam elder.
Along with Hazel Sampson, who died Feb. 4 at age 103, Smith worked to preserve the Klallam language that, during her own childhood, had been forbidden.
Johnson graduated last June from Port Angeles High School, having taken two years of Klallam with tribal linguist Jamie Valadez.
“I really wanted to learn more about my culture and to be able to speak it,” she said, adding that Klallam, with its complex alphabet and pronunciation, was no easy subject.
But Johnson isn't one to back down from a challenge.
Her grandmother, like her great uncle, recalled how Johnson would come home from school and, without prompting, tackle her homework. And softball, in the Babe Ruth League and Port Angeles city league, was a major motivator.
Johnson's uncle Warren was her coach — and “he was not easy on her,” Beck added.
“In fact, he was even harder on her because she's his niece.”
The young player traveled twice to the Babe Ruth League World Series, once in Colorado and another time in Virginia, Beck noted. She was also active in Future Business Leaders of America, or FBLA, at Port Angeles High.
“She could have skated through school, just done the minimum,” said Stevens.
But that's not her style.
Johnson had to quit playing softball, though, when she enrolled in a video production class at the North Olympic Peninsula Skills Center last year.
The course was part of her long-range plan, which also includes an associate degree at Peninsula College and a transfer to a four-year bachelor's in business program. She may stay in Port Angeles for that, as Peninsula College offers a Bachelor of Science in applied management.
Johnson is fond of her home town and says her close family and friends make this the place she wants to be. She also loves living between high mountains and blue water.
When asked what her dream is, the teen doesn't hesitate.
“Honestly, I want my own business one day. I don't know what it will be, but I love business and marketing,” she said.
Johnson is in her second quarter at Peninsula College and taking courses in math, English, physical education and the computer operating system Windows 8. She's also looking for a job to supplement her scholarship funding, and perhaps save for the future.
The Longhouse Scholarship, awarded to members of the Olympic Peninsula's Native American tribes, pays full tuition for one year, so it's worth $4,500, said Ami Magisos, multicultural student services coordinator at the college.
The scholarship, created in 2012, has also been awarded to Shawna Priest, a member of the Jamestown S'Klallam tribe who is enrolled in the college's medical assisting program.
Of Peninsula College's 5,656 students, 174 identified themselves on enrollment forms as Native American, Magisos noted.
Johnson is one of 17 Lower Elwha Klallam students, according to Tracey Hosselkus, the tribe's education director.
Members of the Makah, Quileute, Hoh and Port Gamble S'Klallam tribes are also eligible for the Longhouse Scholarship. A number of students from these tribes are active in the college's Shades of Color club, which hosts activities open to the public such as January's cedar rose workshop in Forks.
Johnson has heard about Shades of Color, but she's been busy with her courses — and with other developments in her life.
In January, with joy, she accepted a proposal of marriage from David Roberts, her boyfriend of 17 months. She and Roberts, 21, took a trip to Silverdale, where he treated her to lunch at Red Robin, her favorite restaurant there.
Then he tried timing the drive home for maximum romance: sunset on Ediz Hook, where they had shared their first kiss.
Traffic altered that plan. But Roberts rallied, presenting his beloved with a diamond ring soon after dark.
“You're my best friend,” he said, “and I want to be with you forever.”
“[Roberts] is the first boy I ever brought around my family,” Johnson said, adding that both sets of folks have been supportive.
When her uncle learned she was engaged, he said, “I'm going to have to talk to him,” Beck recalled.
“So she said, 'Here's his phone number.'”
“I am proud of her; we are all really proud,” Stevens said. “She knows what she wants in her life.
“She respects me,” he added.
“And I respect her.”
If Johnson were to offer advice to other teenagers, she would urge them to stay in school and continue to college for at least a two-year degree.
“Find what you like,” she said, “and stick with it.”