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Okie's experience in India leads to book

6/28/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

It started out as something to leave for her grandchildren, and it turned into a book.

LaNelma Johnson, who with her husband, Ray, spent 12 years in education in India as part of their Baha'i faith, will have a reading and signing for her book, "Okie in a Saree" at 2 p.m. Sunday at Hays Public Library.

"I thought it might just sit in a three-rung binder, but a couple friends read it and said, 'My goodness, you need to publish that, LaNelma,' " Johnson said.

Three years ago, Johnson and her husband went back to India to visit one of their sons, and she took the book to the Baha'i publishing trust in New Delhi, and a book was born.

"They were thrilled to do it," Johnson said.

The book is now in its second printing and in 25 countries, thanks to the children they knew at the school through their time there from 1971 to 1983.

"The kids that were there during our 12 years are all still very close, and they live around the world," Johnson said. "When they saw (the book) on Facebook, they started ordering the book."

The title comes from Johnson's upbringing in Oklahoma, and the saree is the customary clothing for women in India. At first, the publisher didn't like the title, fearing people would not understand what an Okie was, but later relented.

"Everybody loves the title; even the people in Asia," Johnson said.

The children's living conditions in Asia were the hardest thing for Johnson to get used to during her time there.

"My biggest adjustment was to the poverty and children of India who are hungry," Johnson said. "I couldn't sit down and have a meal at my own table, and enjoy food, for about six months.

"I would get up and cry. I thought I wouldn't be able to adjust."

After leaving India, the Johnsons moved to Hays in 1984, where Ray took a position with Fort Hays State University as a teacher in the education department. LaNelma went to school at FHSU and graduated in 1988. After that, they opened a school in Canada.

In 1995, the Johnsons returned to Hays, where Ray went back to teaching at FHSU and LaNelma worked as a case manager at Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas.

The Johnsons retired in 2006 and since have traveled extensively to continue their service in the Baha'i faith. In the last year, they have not traveled as much, but used the book as service for their faith.

"People are very interested to find out what motivated a young American family to get up and go halfway around the world," Johnson, 73, said.

The book is available for $15 plus postage at www.bahaibookstore.com or email the author at raylanelma@gmail.com.