Book shares stories of Walton recipients

Ron Johnson, director of the Walton International Scholarship Program at John Brown University, recently authored “Our Story,” a book that recounts the story of the program and its effects on the students involved.

The book project began about a year ago. Johnson contacted over 200 alumni, the previous presidents of the University and others involved in the program. Johnson said he could collect an infinite amount of stories, yet he realized he has done “all [he] can do for this particular book.”

A variety of stories fill the pages of the book. Johnson wrote of the struggles the students face and how they overcome them.

“I sought to tell the story of a successful program,” Johnson said. “The history and investment of the Walton family and of JBU and other schools, the important story of faith and what it was like to come to America and return home.”

Among the many stories is Johnson’s own. He spent 15 years overseas on the mission field before accepting his position at the University. The University and the students he was in charge of became his new mission.

“I always remember telling former president Lee Balzer, if I came on with the Walton program I would treat the Walton students like I would in the mission field. I would invest in their lives. [This investment] has given me a real love for the kids,” Johnson said.

His favorite story came from a 1991 graduate, Fryda Guerro.

Within her first few weeks of attending the University, she took a trip to Walmart. She was struggling to adjust and walked into the store with tears in her eyes. An older gentleman, dressed in a dirty hat and dirty shoes, caught a glimpse of the sadness that painted her face.

He approached her and asked if she would like go to Hardy’s across the street to share a cup of coffee. Guerro sat down with the man and shared her story. As she was speaking, she happened to glance down at his shirt and caught notice that he was wearing a badge with the name “Sam” engraved upon it.

“Are you Sam Walton?” Guerro asked. The man responded saying that indeed he was.

“You are the richest man in the world! You are the one that changed my life!” Guerro exclaimed.

Johnson adores this story. He said this is just the kind of man Sam Walton was.

“He was more concerned about her well-being than her noticing he was Sam Walton,” Johnson added.

Carli Castillo, a current University senior, is another student whose story is written in the pages of the book. She is a living example of the effects of the Walton Scholarship.

When Castillo walks into a room, she immediately lights it up. She can usually be found by her contagious laugh. Joy defines Castillo.

The scholarship helped shape her life, Castillo said.

“When I got here I really loved the Christian environment,” she said. “Back at home we don’t have these opportunities. This [experience] has helped me to grow spiritually a lot. I can see the difference between who I was three years ago and who I am today.”

Castillo is proud to be a part of the many generations of Walton scholars.

“It’s an honor,” she said, beaming. “This opportunity doesn’t come every day. I feel so proud to be called a Walton.”

Johnson intends to share his book with alumni and those associated with the program. He hopes the pages will bring alumni back to the days they spent on campus and the experiences they had in the States.

Johnson had several copies of the book printed last weekend. There will be a limited amount of copies in the University bookstore, which manager Jeff Bowles said should be available soon and will be sold on consignment.
An e-book is in process as well. Johnson hopes it will make the text more accessible for the alumni in other countries.