“Johnnie is my full [first] name. I was actually drafted in 1967 because they thought I was a boy. My father sent in a letter with a birth certificate attached to prove that I was a girl, but I still had to go to the induction center. I was the only girl there,” said attendance clerk and self-identified “acting health specialist,” yoga practitioner and mountaineer Johnnie Daniel, now Johnnie Daniel LaBarre, as of her recent wedding on May 6.
Before the attempted draft, Johnnie grew up on a 40-acre ranch in San Joaquin Valley with her family and pet horse named Buddy. “I grew up without a TV, so our family’s entertainment, besides horseback riding of course, was making music. Even all the little kids played the spoons,” Daniel said. “I’m the oldest of 138 cousins. That’s counting both my first and second cousins, but it adds up to 138. I’m the oldest and the youngest is my two-week-old second cousin. They’re still poppin’ them out!”
Since her “Southern childhood,” as she described it, Daniel worked as a paralegal for 23 years. “I did criminal law; a lot of working with lowlifes. So it’s not a big switch from there to here,” she joked, glancing at the onion she keeps on her desk to ward off sickness, though fighting a cold at the time. “I’ve been working with youth since the mid ‘90s. I’ve been a leader of both a boy scout troop and a girl scout troop here, and have two kids of my own. Now, I love working with my teacher assistants. All of my TA’s used to be special needs kids, but I love my TA’s now too. I love to mentor.”
“My astrology sets me up well for my job,” continued Daniel. “I’m right between being a Sagittarius and a Capricorn. A Sagittarius is outdoorsy and personable, and a Capricorn is hardworking, loyal, and dedicated. I love astrology. I’ve been doing it since the ‘60s and I still have a whole library of astrology books. It’s not like I want to judge or put anyone in a box; [astrology] just helps me communicate.”
A leisure time pursuit in the tracking and analysis of stars isn’t the only part of Daniel’s past that she has carried with her into her adult life. “I have six pairs of cowboy boots,” Daniel admits. “I used to ride in the Rodeo. I was a Rodeo Princess, which was a big deal at the time.” The “time” was Daniel’s teenage years, which were also occupied with playing country western music in her father’s band. “I played the mandolin.” Daniel was a “softball all-star” from age six to 40 and also had a cake business of her own named “Johnnie Cakes.”
“I try to stay young,” said Daniel after a pause. “I’ve been working for 50 years, but I try to stay young.” Daniel’s aforementioned hobby of mountaineering is one of her more unique tactics. “I’ve been to the top of Mt. Whitney. I could go to Everest, but I’m too old,” she said.
Despite Daniel’s many differing pastimes, on school days she does what most Tam kids picture her doing: attendance. Though filling in color-coded boxes excusing kids from class or handing out Aspirin to those who were lucky enough to have doctor’s permission doesn’t seem nearly as exciting as the aforementioned recreations, “I really, truly, love my job,” said Daniel.