Shimin Zhang
Middle school science teacher Cade Grunst signs his name in a book for former assistant to the head of middle school Barbara Johnson.

On Feb. 1, just under 100 people gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento (2425 Sierra Blvd) to honor the life of Barbara Johnson, former assistant to the head of the middle school.

According to junior Chardonnay Needler, Johnson loved the SCDS music program throughout her years at Country Day and had specifically told orchestra teacher Felecia Keys that she wanted a small group of Country Day students to perform at her funeral.

“(Johnson) would always come to all of our (performances),” Needler said. “Even during some of the smaller performances, like during middle school open house, she would come out of her office just to watch us play.”

Keys (viola) chose sophomore Shimin Zhang (piano), juniors Allison Zhang (violin) and Needler (cello), and senior Lily Brown (violin) to play at the funeral alongside her and lower school music teacher Elena Bennett (violin).

The group performed two songs. They first played “Ashokan Farewell,” composed by Jay Ungar, and closed off the ceremony with “Amazing Grace,” originally written by John Newton.

“When we were asked to play at (Johnson’s) funeral, I was honored,” Brown said. “It was nice to know how much the music program meant to her.”

Between the two performances, a number of current and former SCDS faculty and Johnson’s family members spoke at the funeral.

Middle school spanish teacher Maya Pelle read quotes and poems that she felt applied to Johnson while holding back tears, Needler said.

“There were a lot of people there that I hadn’t seen at school in years,” Needler said. “The fact they all came showed how much of an impact (Johnson) had on these people.”

Former AP Art History teacher and yearbook adviser Joel Rickert as well as retired English teacher Alice Levy were just a few of the former staff attending the funeral.

“(Bennett) mentioned that funerals are one of those places where you see a lot of people you haven’t seen before,” Allison said. “It was like a depressing reunion where everyone was remembering and memorialising (Johnson).”

But the overall atmosphere of the funeral was joyous, Needler said.

“It felt a lot more like everyone there was celebrating the good times with (Johnson) instead of remembering her death,” Needler said.


—By Mehdi Lacombe

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