Woodlake Awards: Johnny On The Spot
When his wife asked him to convert to Catholicism, he said ‘Yes.’ When he was asked to be Eucharist Minister at St. Francis Cabrini Church, he said ‘Yes.’ When he was invited to join the Knights of Columbus, he said ‘Yes.’ And when he had Valley Fever in November and people asked if he was still going to be the instructor at Mid-California Tae Kwan Do, he said ‘Yes,’ despite a lack of energy uncharacteristic Woodlake’s Man of the Year.
“I took three months off of work, but I kept the dojang open,” Johnny said.
Johnny moved to Woodlake when he was just 5 years old and has lived there since. After graduating from Woodlake High School, Varela met his wife Cindy. They eventually married and Johnny converted to Catholicism. They began attending St. Francis Cabrini Church on Pepper Street and Johnny took on several key positions within the church. Since joining the church 17 years ago, Johnny has served as Eucharist Minister, Catechism teacher, helped plan youth retreats and Vacation Bible School.
“I like talking with youth and finding ways to motivate them or get them involved in their community,” he said. “No matter if you are coaching sports, teaching a subject or leading Bible study, when it involves kids you are really teaching about life.”
His involvement in the church led him to join the Knights of Columbus Council #6913 in Woodlake. As a member of the Knights Johnny has helped build props for the annual Harvest Carnival at St. Francis Cabrini Church, refurbish old bicycles to give away at Christmas time for the Woodlake Police Department, runs the concession booth at the July 3rd Blast and has helped put on the Community Services Recognition Dinner in Exeter to honor the officer, firefighter and paramedic of the year for Woodlake, Exeter and Farmersville.
Johnny’s interest in working with youth branched out into sports. He has coached youth baseball on and off for the last 12 years, helping out with wrestling at Woodlake Valley Middle School (which he took all the way to the State Competition), traveling with the Predators basketball team, Weight Master for the Pop Warner Bengals football team and tae kwan do.
Johnny first learned tae kwan do from Terrance Keller at Mid-California Tae Kwan Do in Woodlake 17 years ago. Six years later he was the head instructor and in 2009 took over the dojan from Keller as he became principal of Hester Elementary in Farmersville. Johnny takes is classes on demonstrations to both the Woodlake Rodeo Parade and WHS Career Day.
“My motto is, ‘Do your best and you will become the best,’” Varela said. “I think some kids think they are the best or don’t think they can do it at all. If you come in and practice every day, and it becomes something fun, eventually you will be the best at that thing.”
Johnny also serves on the Woodlake Planning Commission. He said he likes living in a small town but would like to see Woodlake grow a little in order to bring more business into to town. Varela said the additional businesses would not only benefit City of Woodlake’s revenue but also provide more opportunities for young people trying to find jobs.
“A lot of people weren’t too happy when we got a Subway, but I see kids I know working in there,” Johnny said.
“Seeing kids finding jobs and working is always a good thing.”