When an employment agency sent Lois Johnson to what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission, she was first handed the exam given to potential bus operators. "I said, 'No, no, no -- wrong position," Johnson recalled. With a background in accounting, she instead had her sights set on working in finance. Once she was given the right test, she passed, got a same-day interview with the finance director and was hired on the spot. And so began a 43-year career that concluded when Johnson retired from Metro Transit in 2019.
Growing up, Johnson's family lived in Montana, North Dakota and several small Minnesota towns. Even in her early years, she said, she had an affinity for numbers and bookkeeping. While her husband attended college in Winona, Minn., she worked in accounting for a music publishing company. She found herself looking for a new job when her husband graduated and the newly married couple decided to move to the Twin Cities. Johnson hadn't set her sights on a job in transit, but the good benefits and the chance to continue her career in finance led her to take the job.
Initially, Johnson was tasked with cashing employees' personal checks and selling tokens and punch cards directly to customers who visited MTC's main office, then located at Nicollet Garage. Before long, though, she found herself eager to take on new challenges. Using a calculator and a loud bookkeeping machine, she started paying bills and was put in charge of overseeing petty cash and employee uniform allowance accounts. When light rail service began, Johnson also started to staff the ticket booth, selling fares to customers attending games and other special events. "It was completely different than my regular job but it was really nice being able to help people," she said.
While she might not have expected to make a 43-year career in transit, Johnson said she stayed because she appreciated the job security, the benefits and the chance to work alongside several people who would come to be close friends. "I found my best friends here at work," she said. "How often does that happen?"
Johnson retired in May 2019 with plans to tackle several house projects and to travel the country with her husband.