Jim Johnston’s four decades of leadership memorialized outside OOIDA headquarters.

December 2019/January 2020

Mark Schremmer


Anyone who walks through the main entrance of OOIDA headquarters will now be reminded of the person who helped start it all.

For more than four decades, Jim Johnston was the driving force behind the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

On Oct. 22, the Association, in which he helped build, unveiled a memorial plaque positioned outside the entrance of the OOIDA headquarters in Grain Valley, Mo.

A tribute

The plaque, which includes a bronze bas-relief sculpture of Johnston, serves as a tribute to the longtime OOIDA leader who died Jan. 8, 2018.

“For over 43 years, Jim served as president of OOIDA, the organization he helped create in 1973 and develop into the most influential voice speaking on behalf of professional truckers,” the plaque states. “Through determination, perseverance and character, he forever changed the trucking industry and the lives of those he touched.”

The more than 300 employees at OOIDA and its board members gathered for the unveiling ceremony, which included remarks from OOIDA President Todd Spencer and Jim’s wife, Karen Johnston.

“This moment is about recognizing Jim Johnston, our president for over 43 years,” Spencer said. “He will undoubtedly be our longest-serving (president) there ever was. He certainly was recognized as a leader, a visionary, an advocate, a mentor, and a friend to me personally and to many, many others.”

One man’s determination

In 1975, Johnston became OOIDA’s third president and helped turn it into the largest national organization for truck drivers with more than 160,000 members.

Spencer said Johnston wasn’t the first person to attempt to build a prominent national association for truckers but that he was the first to succeed.

“Under his leadership and with his vision we were able to put something together that certainly many others tried, they tried hard … but they all failed,” Spencer said. “Certainly Johnston had many qualities that made things work out differently for him, not the least of which was that he was stubborn and refused to quit. You know, it’s not like you always win, but it’s a choice if you lose. And he made the choice to never lose, and we’re all the better for it.”

OOIDA formed in 1973, and Johnston became president two years later. Under Johnston’s leadership, OOIDA started many services and programs for drivers. Any profits go directly toward funding the fight to protect and ensure the rights of truckers.

“Jim was in his early 30s when he discovered a need for an association like OOIDA,” Karen Johnston said. “He was so young, but he had a vision. We’ve all heard the stories about the hardships and struggles they faced in those early days. Jim wasn’t sure what he was doing. He just knew that he had to something. It would have been so easy to leave the fight to someone else and walk away as others did, but that wasn’t my husband. Jim didn’t know how to quit.”

The fight continues

Spencer said Johnston’s vision continues today. OOIDA is now in its 47th year.

“We are all about advocating on behalf of our members, small-business truckers,” Spencer said to OOIDA’s employees. “That’s our reason for existence. I want to thank all of you, but we always need to remember where it all came from, and it was from the vision of Mr. Johnston.” LL


Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.