How about a hug for Valentine’s Day? North Whidbey couple has plenty to offer
By NATHAN WHALEN
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
February 12, 2012 · Updated 6:07 AM
North Whidbey residents Jim and Inge Johnston want to spread warm feelings for Valentine’s Day and they’re using a simple hug to accomplish that.
The annual romantic holiday coming Tuesday seems to be a great time to renew interest in their National Hug Holiday, an event they started when they lived in Florida in the mid-1980s.
Their decision to restart their holiday is attributed to the encouragement of family and friends.
To let folks know about the hugging celebration, they will be at the Wind and Tide Bookstore in downtown Oak Harbor starting at around noon Feb. 14 to spread hugs to anybody walking into the shop.
“They’re such a lovely couple,” said Wind and Tide owner Karen Mueller. The new owner of Oak Harbor’s long-running bookstore said she hopes such events will give her store a community center atmosphere.
Mueller knows the Johnstons through Inga’s work as a writer. She spoke about a book she authored titled, “Unbelievable Adventures of a World War II War Bride.”
The Johnstons started National Hug Holiday when they owned and operated a nutritional counseling business near Fort Lauderdale.
“I always had a bowl of soup and a hug for them,” Inge, who still speaks with a German accent, said. Because of the large population of elderly folks living in the area and far away from family, they often didn’t know how lonely they were until they were hugged, Inga said.
In the years they lived in Florida, the couple’s hugs eventually evolved into an informal Florida holiday, which they held in June. They would visit retirement and assisted living homes to offer a friendly hug to residents.
“One time we hugged 1,000 people in one day,” Jim said.
Their efforts were recognized in Florida and national newspapers. The Johnstons have what they call a “hug hall of fame” in their home near Dugualla Bay showing the newspaper articles that have been written about them over the years. They received letters from people from around the world thanking them for their efforts.
Jim said the holiday, combined with the business they were operating, became too much for them to handle. They turned the holiday program over to someone else and it diminished.
They moved to Whidbey Island in 2003. Jim Johnston said he enjoyed the island when he was stationed on Whidbey while he served in the Navy.
They are looking for “hug helpers” to volunteer for their event Tuesday. In addition, Jim Johnston said he hopes to visit senior and assisted living facilities on Whidbey Island to renew the tradition they started in Florida.
For more information about helping with the Hug Holiday, contact the Johnstons at 240-0521.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Nathan Whalen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-675-6611 ext. 5058.