Remembering BenitoLink Advisory Board Member Colleen Johnson

Family and friends honor longtime community servant

A memorial service was held Saturday for BenitoLink Co-Founder and Advisory Board Member Colleen Johnson, who passed away Dec. 31 at her home in San Juan Bautista surrounded by family and friends. She was 50 years old.

Colleen was a native of San Martin, Calif. and grew up in the Santa Clara Valley. She attended Live Oak High School and graduated from California State University, Sacramento. After college, she lived in Virginia, Southern California and Florida before returning home to California. She devoted every ounce of bountiful energy as a mother, daughter, sister and partner. Her favorite days were those shared laughing and spending time with her children, Zac and Emily Johnson, or hiking the Big Sur and Sierra Nevada Mountains with her longtime boyfriend, Mike Pulido.

More than 150 people attended the service at the Markham Ranch in Salinas to honor and remember Colleen, who was an active member of various San Benito County organizations including BenitoLink, the Community Foundation for San Benito County, former elected treasurer of the City of San Juan Bautista, and a graduate of Leadership Monterey County. She also volunteered for the Annie Appleseed Project, sharing alternative therapies among cancer patients. In addition to her civic and volunteer work, she was a massage therapist and nutritional counselor and was passionate about sharing her knowledge to help family and friends. She also worked at Pharmaca in Monterey, where she was nicknamed “SuperGirl,” taking on management duties and helping to open new stores along the West Coast.

“She truly found a way to fit multiple lifetimes into her 50 years,” her daughter, Emily Johnson, a senior at the University of Montana, said in a touching eulogy.

Family and friends spoke for more than two hours with stories of Colleen’s warm spirit and determination to help others, right up until her final days.

Her son, Zac Johnson, a 1st Lieutenant with the United States Marine Corps Naval Aviation Training Squadron 2 at NAS Whiting Field, Florida, recalled a road trip with his mother when she was singing along to the 70s pop band Cheap Trick’s “The Flame” and insisted the lyrics were “I will be the same” rather than “I will be the flame.”  

“Even when I told her: ‘Mom, the name of the song is “The Flame,” the name of the album is “The Flame,” she insisted the words were “I will be the same.”

Her sister, Aileen, also talked about how “Colleen was one of the most stubborn people I ever knew. But that stubbornness served her well.”

Colleen refused to allow cancer to define her life. Her family described her determination as a five-year journey.

“After being diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer in November, 2009, she worked tirelessly to first understand and then to fight her disease in a multitude of ways. She supplemented her traditional chemotherapy with homeopathic and nutritional remedies that gave her quality of life that made many of her family, friends and clients forget she was a cancer patient. She organized and attended multiple conferences devoted to furthering the treatment of cancer, contributing her knowledge, enthusiasm and optimism at every opportunity. Her oncologist credited Colleen with extending the lives of many of her other cancer patients who were physically healthier but not mentally or emotionally so,” Zac and Emily said.  

Personally, I knew Colleen as the energetic and “Yes, I can do that!” person her long list of admirers described. As an active participant in Vision San Benito County, a two-year outreach project of the Community Foundation for San Benito County, Colleen was a founding member of BenitoLink, one of the direct outcomes of that project. For the past three years, she has been an instrumental member of the team that designed, launched and maintained the online news and information site for San Benito County. She was passionate about making sure that residents in San Benito County had access to reliable and useful information on local politics, events and health.  Colleen was also a loyal and thoughtful friend. Just days before she died, she was still putting others first, texting to ask how sick friends were feeling and offering tips on good nutrition.  

In addition to Zach, Emily and Mike, Colleen is also survived by her mother, Marge Miles (Wayne), father Terry McHenry (Joan), sisters Cheryl Barrett (Perry), niece Nicole and nephew Walker, brother Keith (Kari) nephew Jack and niece Sophie, and former husband Richard Johnson.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in her memory to the Community Foundation for San Benito County or to Emmaus House in Hollister, Calif., a shelter for victims of domestic abuse. 

Please share your thoughts and memories of Colleen in the Comments section below. 

Julie Finigan Morris

Julie Finigan Morris is a journalist and business owner. She has worked as staff writer for several news organizations, including Thomson Newspapers in Washington D.C., McClatchy Newspapers and Scripps News Service. She is also the Co-Founder and Owner of Morris Grassfed and has lived in San Benito County for more than 25 years. Morris has also worked in corporate communications, marketing, and the non-profit sector. She is a founding board member of BenitoLink and currently serves on its Editorial Committee. She recently published her first novel, Exit Strategy. Visit her online at