Kansas State employee sewing custom masks for Willie the Wildcat

Someone You Should Know

MANHATTAN, Kan. (KSNT) — Many people around Manhattan and Kansas State University are wearing masks as we get through this pandemic. Willie the Wildcat is no exception, as he doesn’t get caught around campus without one thanks to a Manhattan woman.

The K-State Student Union is now more than just a central meeting place for people on campus. It’s become a workspace for Jean Johnston who is no stranger or new face around the union. She’s worked at the bookstore for almost four decades.

“My husband and I both work here in the building,” Johnston said. “I’ve been here 39 years, he’s been in the building 42 years.”

Now, she’s adding mask maker to her list of duties around the union, but not for staff and students. She’s hemming together fabric for Willie himself.

Johnston was asked to give Willie a face-covering in August. Since then, the lucky cat has five for his stash, even some to match the time of year.

“I own several sewing machines,” she said. “So…I couldn’t pass it up. It was so much fun.”

While this is a fun project for her, it’s more about using the Wildcat frontman as an example, along with adding a few smiles in the craziness of it all thanks to her sewing skills.

“Willie has such a good personality,” she said. “I mean, you can’t miss him. He’s adorable. He is a statue, but he symbolizes a lot here at K-State. So he might as well be helping the cause, and help us get better.”

Johnston does make sure she gives back to the students and people coming into the book store. When she’s not busy at work, she knits things like hats and donates them to people who come in, all out of the goodness of her heart, and her hobby.

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