First woman Police Chief was on the beat
HUGHESVILLE Those acquainted with Georgine Johnson know of her tenacity, perseverance, leadership qualities and no-nonsense attitude. In the early 1960’s it took a plucky person of any gender to step up and be involved in enforcing the law of the land.
Johnson’s first step toward a goal in becoming a policewoman began in 1959 when she took an FBI course receiving a certificate of Achievement. With that knowledge Johnson began duties with the borough of Hughesville which included serving as cross-walk guards for school children. Police women also serving in Hughesville during this time were Lillian Hazen and Leah Boyer. Their attire was a navy skirt with jacket and white gloves for directing traffic.
The borough office was located on West Water Street where the police had a room in the rear of the building. The site had also served as a fire station, early library, Girl Scout meeting place, and currently houses a gym.
Heading the department was Chief Elwood “Whity” Laurenson, who died suddenly in April 1962. “I was vacationing in Canada when I received a phone call I was needed back in town, and when I arrived was given the office of Police Chief appointed by Mayor Howard Shaffer,” said Johnson who became the borough’s first and only female police chief receiving a pay of seventy-five cents an hour.
The advancement required additional training with the Public Service Institute of Pennsylvania including Advance Police Procedure with children and youth. The chief revisited both a dangerous and amusing experience. “One night the bartender called saying a man was in the store carrying a gun. I didn’t put on my uniform, nor did I carry a gun. The gunman recognized me when I entered and I basically talked him down. After asking him to relinquish his gun, he dared me to take it from him. I explained that I knew judo and karate and had no doubt I could take the gun. But as I was a woman, did he want to embarrass himself? Finally I said I’d go to the other side of the room and talk to a couple people sitting at a table and should he leave in a timely manner, the situation would be over. He took the suggestion,” the former police chief said.
Johnson also said that, “An amusing event happened to a man who regularly gathered with friends at a morning coffee club at Swisher’s store where Lindauers is currently located. At the time, the borough had parking meters and unbeknownst to me, the man ignored the meters. I was told later he watched and knew my schedule. After guarding the children to school I had a routine of checking the meters. On this day I decided to reverse the meter route throwing off my regular schedule and a ticket was issued to the man who’d boasted he’d never be caught. His cronies said the man didn’t return for coffee for two weeks. Twenty five cents was the cost of a ticket then.”
Another time Johnson ticketed the unmarked car of a police special investigator. Called in and questioned by Justice of the Peace, Joseph Siegfried, the ticket stood as she’d already entered it into her book. “He got a ticket because the meter was expired,” she reasoned.
Johnson and husband Paul were parents and “The job as chief was a twenty four hour, seven day a week job,” she said.
After a period of two years, Johnson applied for a position with the State Police where in 1964 she was assigned to switchboard and communications at the Montoursville Barracks, her bi-weekly pay being $112.50.
As part of procedure, Johnson was investigated. “When completed and nothing was found, the investigator knocked at my door asking if I’d never done anything wrong. When going to my job at the barracks, the policeman I’d ticketed in town said not to mess with her, she’ll get you.” In addition to her assigned duties, Johnson sometimes accompanied fellow police officers on business as far away as Scranton. “Individuals would call the barracks for weather reports and the weather service kept us abreast of their advisories.”
Johnson’s leadership qualities were also apparent while Supervisor of Production at Relda Incorporated, a local manufacturer of apparel.
In community organizations she has served as President of the Homemakers; the Parent Teacher’s Association; the Women’s Auxiliary of the former VFW Post at Unityville; nearly two decades with the Hughesville Garden Club; and an organizer with a local group of the Red Hat Society.