Johnson Optometric Associates is turning 65 years old! As we approach this milestone, we took time to reflect back on the history of this practice. Al Johnson loves to tell the story about how he became an optometrist. He enlisted in the Air Force to become a pilot in World War 2, but during his initial physical it was discovered that he was significantly farsighted and had a condition called esophoria, which can cause intermittent double vision. This obviously disqualified him from becoming a pilot, and he now considers it a blessing as he had several pilot friends that were killed in action during the war. He had a new passion for the eyes and decided to pursue optometry, and we are extremely grateful for his decision.
In the spring of 1950 Dr. Al Johnson graduated from Pennsylvania College of Optometry and was interested in starting a practice in Sanford, North Carolina. There was another optometrist looking to start a practice in Sanford so the two of them decided to flip a coin to determine who would stay and who would go. Dr. Al lost the coin toss and began looking for another location to start his practice. In optometry school, professors had told the students to not open a practice in a town with less than 5,000 people. Dr. Al decided to take a chance on Fuquay-Varina despite only having 2,000 residents.
Johnson Optometric Associates opened on July 7, 1950. One week later, Dr. Al’s son, Bob was born. The first office was fairly small and was located above the Hudson Belk building in downtown Fuquay. Dr. Al had a total of two employees, a technician and a secretary to make appointments. It was also difficult for some patients because they had to walk up a flight of stairs in order to enter the office. Dr. Al stayed in this office for three years before moving into Dr. Crumpler’s house on Depot St. which had been converted into an office building. Shortly after moving Johnson Optometric Associates to the Depot St. location, Hurricane Hazel came through North Carolina resulting in extensive damage across the state. However, the little officeon Depot St. stood strong. In 1957, Dr. Crumpler decided to tear down the existing house and construct a multi-office building in which JOA rented from Dr. Crumpler for almost two decades. Eventually, Dr. Al purchased the building in 1976 and this remained the JOA Fuquay location until 1999. Dr. Al’s practice began to grow along with the little town of Fuquay-Varina. It seemed like just a short time before his son, Robert “Dr. Bob” Johnson, would join the practice in 1976.
Since Bob was born exactly one week after his dad opened JOA in 1950, Bob was subsequently exposed to both the good and bad sides of optometry for 65 years. “I can honestly say the good has far outweighed the bad”, says Dr. Bob. “I have always been inspired by my dad’s professionalism and compassionate care he provided for each of his patients and the resultant admiration he gained within our community.” However, in the fall of 1972, Bob pursued a degree in economics with an emphasis on business at N.C. State. He states that he was more intrigued with the idea of four years of college education versus the eight years that optometry required. However, in the fall of his junior year, God providentially brought Faye Heavener into his life. She would eventually become the love of his life and they have been married 43 years and counting… She is the one who ultimately gave Bob the final inspiration to pursue his life-long dream of becoming an optometrist. After almost 40 years of practice, Bob says, “I can truly say it has been and continues to be a blessing to care for the visual needs of the people of Fuquay-Varina, Garner, and those from surrounding communities.” Bob goes on to say, “Along with the Lord, I want to thank my dad for modeling for me what a professional optometrist should be, and my precious mom, Margaret Johnson, who was a constant encourager to me. I also want to thank my two lovely daughters, Courtney and Adrienne, who had to endure many nights without dad because of work and other civic and church commitments. Dr. Bob has served as President of the Fuquay-Varina Chamber of Commerce, Fuquay-Varina Rotary Club, and served on the board for Wake Christian Academy, Teen Valley Ranch, Amazing Grace Adoptions. He has served as a deacon and Sunday School teacher at Wake Chapel Church and is a leader in Bible Study Fellowship. Dr. Bob says, “Last but certainly not least I want to thank my sweet wife, Faye, who along with the Lord Jesus Christ, have been the ‘Wind beneath my wings’.”
Bob Johnson graduated from Pennsylvania College of Optometry in the spring of 1976 and began working with his father. He inherited many patients from Dr. Al that wore contact lenses because Dr. Bob could fit a new and exciting type of contact lens, “soft contact lenses”. Also, there was a considerable amount of legislation affecting optometry in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Optometrists were now allowed to use diagnostic drugs such as dilating drops, as well as prescribe medications to treat eye infections. This allowed optometrists to continue prescribing glasses and contact lenses while increasing the ability to treat medical eye diseases.
JOA was growing rapidly with Dr. Al and his son Dr. Bob, and soon they would add another optometrist to the practice. After college, Rick Hartman worked as a research assistant/histologist at Temple Medical School in Philadelphia making $6,000 a year. Because he was interested in the health/medical field, Rick was working towards a Master of Science Degree by taking classes in Virology and Biochemistry at Villanova University. During his training he realized that he was more interested in patient care rather than research and education. He wanted patient contact and a career that would allow him to use his biology background and future clinical skills to care for patients. Optometry seemed to be the perfect career for him.
While completing the 4 year program to earn his Doctor of Optometry, Rick had a wonderful opportunity to take care of the visual and medical eye needs of patients. He was a classmate of Bob Johnson at PCO in Philadelphia. He said, “those students from North Carolina sure talked funny.” After graduating from PCO, he completed two years active duty serving as Staff Optometrist at the Naval Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee. These years were packed with experience in managing anterior segment disease, therapeutics, trauma, and seeing a lot of patients. “I was attracted to North Carolina because of the progressive and favorable environment to practice Optometry”, says Rick. As mentioned before, North Carolina was one of the first states to pass laws which allowed optometrists to prescribe medication to treat eye disease, as well as use medications to diagnose diseases. After passing the grueling North Carolina Optometry Board Exam, he worked at the Durham Vision Clinic under Dr. Howard Lewis, a Diplomat in Low Vision. This practice afforded Dr. Hartman some exposure to Low Vision but lacked growth in providing therapeutic treatment and primary eye care. Dr. Al Johnson and Bob Johnson, his former classmate, offered him a position at JOA. Of course, he accepted and has been a partner for 35 years and counting… He comments, “I am thankful to be a part of the Johnson Optometric family, which is one of oldest Optometric practices in the state.”
By 1979, JOA was a firmly established practice in Fuquay-Varina and had a small branch office in Angier. The practice drew patients from Holly Springs, Garner, Coats, Erwin, and as far away as Roanoke Rapids. However, 1981 brought a mild recession with gas prices increasing to an average of $1.38. Funny to think that $1.38 per gallon was causing economic problems throughout the state. The 3 doctors, Dr. Al, Dr. Bob, and the new partner Dr. Hartman saw the need and opportunity to open a branch office in Garner. Dr. Hartman states, “For our many established Garner patients our goal was to provide a more convenient location and hopefully expand our services to the Garner area.” Because the JOA philosophy has always been that the doctor should live in the town that he practices, Dr. Hartman and family moved to Garner. He became the principal doctor in the Garner office and part of the Garner community.
The original Garner office was located in the Garner Executive Center on Aversboro Rd. At that time, Garner did not have a central medical center and only one primary care physician, Dr Johnny Bagwell. The Garner Executive Center had offices with a dentist, Dr Richard Godfrey, an orthodontist, Dr Robert Chandler, and later a family practitioner, Dr. George Bartels. Dr. Hartman and Dr. Bob Johnson alternated days in the Garner office with very limited space. JOA was well received by the Garner community, Garner Chamber of Commerce, and civic clubs.
The practice supported local baseball teams, Garner High School Football, and was active in vision screenings of elementary school children during AOA “Save Your Vision Week.” As the practice grew, the partners, with the advice and encouragement of Ken Hollis with Doctors Vision Center, decided to build a state of the art 6,000 square foot office at 918 Seventh Avenue behind Forest Hills Shopping Center. This building was completed in 1997 and remains the site of our current practice. We are able to provide Ophthalmological Services with Kelly Eye Center and Taylor Retina Associates, and this provides excellent convenience for our patients.
Bob Hammond became interested in optometry during his junior year of high school. He remembers going to the guidance office and looking at careers instead of going to study hall. “Working as a healthcare professional seemed to be an interesting career and optometry was very appealing to me with its mix of optics and medicine”, says Dr. Hammond. After being accepted to The Ohio State University as a pre-optometry major, he would go on the graduate from the Ohio State College of Optometry a few years later.
Dr. Hammond went on the complete a residency at the Columbus Veterans Administration Hospital, and then decided to come to North Carolina where he could practice to the fullest extent of his training. He states, “the abundance of golf courses was appealing as well.” He states, “I was blessed to find an opportunity to practice with Dr. Al Johnson, Dr. Bob Johnson and Dr. Rick Hartman.” Dr. Al Johnson retired shortly after Dr. Hammond joined the practice, although Dr. Al likes to tell everyone Dr. Hammond kicked him out. Dr. Al and Dr. Hammond have faithfully served as members of the Fuquay-Varina Lions Club for a number of years, and Dr. Hammond currently serves as President of the Lions Club. He has enjoyed an excellent career at JOA and says, “Looking back these past thirty years, I can say I have found the Fuquay/Garner area to be a great place to practice, raise my family, and call my home.” Dr. Hammond’s son, Jay, recently graduated from Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry and is currently working as an Optometry Resident with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Charleston, S.C.
Dr. Al retired in 1988 after a wonderful career in optometry. He saw JOA grow from a tiny office with just a few small rooms to a business caring for thousands of patients, employing 35+ people, with multiple practice locations. He also established a reputation of excellence in eye care which the current doctors strive to uphold each and every day. His wife, Margaret, worked in the office for over three decades and even continued to work there after Dr. Al retired. She took on many roles within the office, but she very much enjoyed working in the lab and helping patients select their glasses.
Just a few years after building the Garner office, JOA moved the Fuquay practice to the current location at 1340 N. Main St. The building was completed in 1999 and provided much needed space for the growing practice. There were more exam lanes, and a large optical showroom to display the thousands of frames we have in stock. Also, this large space allowed JOA to host community events such as Chamber of Commerce “Business After Hours” and various fundraisers for the community.
Andrew May grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. When he went to get his driver’s license, he failed the vision portion of the exam. Not realizing that he was moderately nearsighted, he was amazed when Dr. John Amos showed him his new vision out of the office window. At that point, Andrew was interested in optometry. He shadowed Dr. Amos several times throughout high school and undergraduate studies. He then applied and was accepted to the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry in 2005, where Dr. Amos was the Dean. In 2008, he was a 4th year optometry student looking to move to North Carolina with his family. So they took a trip to visit Dr. Phil Martin, a retinal specialist, in Raleigh and also to visit the area. Because he had two rotation spots open, he asked Dr. Martin and his staff if they knew of any good private optometry practices in the area. Dr. Hammond’s wife happened to be nearby, and she said, “Well, you could always go visit Bob.” So he drove down to Fuquay-Varina that afternoon and ended up meeting Dr. Hartman. They had a nice visit, and Dr. Hartman agreed to take him on as an intern for four months of his fourth year in school. He fit in very well, and after the internship they offered him a position full-time. He joined in May of 2009 after graduating from UAB School of Optometry.
While in high school, Barrett Martin was interested in a career in medicine. His family had seen Dr. Bob for several years, so he asked Dr. Bob if he could come to the office and see what it was like to practice optometry. A few years later, Dr. Bob invited Barrett to go on a medical mission trip to Brazil. This was an amazing experience for both of them and Barrett was hooked on becoming an optometrist after seeing all those people receive the gift of sight. After graduating from the University of Alabama School of Optometry in 2013, Dr. Martin was thrilled to move his family back to his hometown and begin working at Johnson Optometric Associates.
Dr. May and Dr. Martin both grew up with a love of music. While in optometry school, Dr. May made several parody music videos for the fun and entertainment of his classmates. Dr. Martin, having gone to the same school, had seen several of these videos while in school. When he would tell people who he was going to be working with, many of them would say, “You mean the guy that made those videos?!” So when Dr. Martin joined in 2013, they started talking about making videos together for fun and for the patients’ entertainment. Their first video was a parody of the Tom Petty song “Free Fallin'”, where they changed the lyrics to “Nearsighted.” They “released” it in November of 2013. They had a great time making it, and tried to involve everyone in the office. It was very well received, both by patients and the staff. So they began work on another video, a rap parody of “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice. “Eyes Eyes Baby” was an instant success, gathering over 2,000 YouTube views in 3 days (as of June 2015 it has almost 23,000 views). Patients, other doctors, and everyone else that saw it were entertained by two doctors rapping about eyes with ties around their heads and reading glasses around their necks. It was covered by the SouthWestWake News, and also by an optometric magazine, Invision, out of New York City. Drs. May and Martin followed that one up with a parody of “Let It Go” from Frozen, about letting glasses go and wearing contact lenses. To date, they have done parodies of “U Can’t Touch This“, “Baby Got Back“, “The 12 Days of Christmas“, “Blinded By The Light“, “My Girl“, “Man of Constant Sorrow“, and many others. They are always working on a new one, and really enjoy the process and seeing patients and friends get excited about optometry.
What lies ahead for Johnson Optometric Associates? From the genesis of our practice, Dr. Al has seemed to instill a simple concept in each of the doctors that work here. “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” This Biblical principle has stood the test of time, and the Lord has blessed our practice over the past 65 years. We strive to treat our patients as we would like to be treated when we visit any doctor’s office. This has resulted in great friendships with several thousand patients who come to us year after year for their eye care. We have also been blessed to be consistently selected as “Best Optometric Group” and “Best Optical Dispensary” in our area. We enjoy seeing families “grow up” in our practice, and we are very grateful for the privilege to care for you.