Long-time La Prensa San Diego supporter, community leader’s legacy lives
Although this week it’s going to be a month since Mr. Johnnie Williams passed away on June 10th, those who knew him and who frequented his laundromat say his spirit remains.
“His presence is still here,” said Mrs. Ivy Williams, Johnnie’s wife of 60 years. “When I look at that corner over there where he used to seat on his motor chair by the window, I can still feel he’s here,” she said, pointing to the front window of Johnnie and Ivy’s Washhouse, located near the corner of Imperial Ave. and 26th St., in the heart of Sherman Heights.
That’s not too far from the house where he was born on May 20, 1925, off 36th St. and Ocean View. Ivy remembers that Johnnie used to say, proudly, “I have always lived within three miles of my birthplace.”
Although Johnnie grew up in the same area where he was born and remained here all of his life, he had a life full of achievement, dedication, and professionalism. Above all, his sense of community made him a leader in everything he did, throughout his years of service.
“He treated everybody right. Now, that didn’t mean he didn’t fight back when he saw something wrong being done against someone else. Every decision he took was based on respect for all,” Ivy said. “People loved him.”
That love was gained thanks to Johnnie’s dedication to his community. And because he was one who was able to beat all odds.
He was born in 1925, during the height of the depression, in a family with an abusive father.
“Because of his childhood memories, Jonnie couldn’t stand a man beating a woman,” Ivy said.
After graduating from San Diego High School in 1943, Johnnie did a series of odd jobs, until marrying Ivy in 1949, with whom he had two children, Tommy and Jimmy.
She was the one who encouraged Johnnie not to settle for less, so he joined the San Diego Police Department in 1952 as a beat cop, one of the few African-American officers at that time. He then rose through the ranks, becoming a Homicide Detective, a position where he became a mentor for other African-American officers in the department. He retired in 1978.
But since he was always full of energy, Johnnie never stopped working.
After retiring from the police department, he and his wife Ivy opened the laundromat, something that turned out to be as challenging as being a cop.
“When we moved in to this place, it was horrible,” remembers Ivy. “Drugs everywhere, crime. I think Johnnie helped to turn it around, now this area is much better. People come from all over to wash their clothes here, because they know here they find respect. Johnnie’s policy was simple: We respect everybody.”
Local resident Bisal Seifullah said that Johnnie helped him straighten his life throughout the years.
“Johnnie was a very generous person,” he said. “He was very knowledgeable, very friendly. He helped me get housing and a job after my divorce. Johnnie was truly always in ‘helping mode.’”
In the laundromat, Johnnie knew his customers by name. Up to this day, when customers come in and they find out he passed away, they start crying, Ivy said.
“He loved the laundromat with a passion,” said his son, Jimmy. “He would fix the machines himself, he would be here from opening to closing, making sure everything was running smoothly.”
Sergio Lopez, who owns a 99 cent store across the street from Johnnie and Ivy’s Wash-house, said that 20 years ago, if Johnnie ever saw anybody selling drugs on the streets, he would call the police.
“He made sure that didn’t happen here,” Lopez said. “He was very strict.”
Johnnie was a popular person in San Diego. His work in the police department, his charity work in the community, and his willingness to lend a helping hand, made him a respected man throughout San Diego.
He was very good friend with Mr. Dan Muñoz Sr., founder of and who passed away last year. That’s why Johnnie has been one of La Prensa San Diego strongest supporters in the newspaper’s history.
“Johnnie and Ivy have advertised in La Prensa every week for as long as I can remember, at least 20 years,” said Dan Muñoz Jr., current editor of La Prensa San Diego. “They have worked hard to maintain a thriving business in a part of the community that has seen a lot of change over the years and had more than its fair share of problems.”
For Muñoz, the laundromat has become an icon in Sherman Heights, “a safe and secure haven for the community to go and gather, and feel safe. As an ex-Police Officer Johnnie knew how to provide his community a safe and comfortable place to go gather, talk, and wash their clothes.”
Although he passed away, Johnnie’s spirit lives on. For example, there’s a room and swimming pool named for him at the Boys and Girls Club on Marcy Ave.
His wife Ivy put it best when she said that “Johnnie will forever be remembered as someone who helped his community and loved his family.”