By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

Lily Johnson has kept every calendar since 1958. She didn't forget to throw them away; she just likes to keep track of where she's been.

During her 40-year career as a home economist with electric companies, she worked in 47 states and visited 30 foreign countries.

"I had the best career of any girl in America," Johnson said. "I'd go back this afternoon if I could."

Johnson spent most of her career working for General Electric and living in southern California. As a home economist, she traveled the country helping the large company market domestic innovations.

During the span of her career, from 1945 to 1985, she helped introduce many items that are now commonplace in most American homes. From early electric freezers to toaster ovens, automatic laundry equipment to smoke detectors, Johnson helped unveil them all.

How does she feel to see how far those products have come during her lifetime?

"I don't think about it until somebody like you comes up," Johnson said with a chuckle. "Then I think, 'Whoa, that's a lot of history.' "

Most of her time was spent traveling. The marketing strategy back then depended heavily on word of mouth, she said, so Johnson attended many conventions and trade shows, educating salespeople about the new GE products.

There was one year -- she thinks it was when the electric smoke detector was introduced -- Johnson was home only 10 weekends, she said.

She also wrote articles and hosted public demonstrations to educate homemakers about the new household devices.

Today, most women can't imagine household chores without automatic laundry equipment. But that wasn't always the case, Johnson said.

"Everybody loved to hang their sheets on the line," she said of initial reluctance to electric driers. "The easiest thing to sell was home freezers."

A native of Hays, Johnson was in one of the first classes to graduate from Washington Elementary School. She graduated from high school in Hays, then earned a degree in home economics from Kansas State University, a fact she's still proud of.

Her career began at Kansas City Power & Light; her first day of work was Aug. 14, 1945 -- better known as V-J Day. Her job then took her far from home for 60 years.

Johnson returned to Hays in 2007 to be near her brothers and now lives in Good Samaritan Society's Garden Terrace Apartments in Hays. She keeps busy by working part-time at Hays Convention & Visitors Bureau and volunteering at her church.

Three plaques hanging on the wall of her apartment remind her, however, of a career well-spent. Her honors include being inducted into a home economists' hall of fame in 1987.

There was a reason she initially chose a career in home economics.

"I majored in home economics to learn to sew, and I spent my whole career cooking," she said.

A child of the 1930s, Johnson said her family was not hit hard by the Depression. Despite that, those years likely helped shape her work ethic and goals, she said.

"My major goal was to stay employed. I think that's a result of being a Depression child," Johnson said.

"And thank God, I found a job I loved."