True Treasures consignment stores icon Elena Johnson has moved on to a new venture, providing formerly homeless veterans and their families with furniture for their homes.
Elena Johnson's West Highland white terrier, Molly, is barking in excitement at the front door. It's the same Molly who, along with Johnson, graced the many TV commercials advertising True Treasures, the well-known furniture and antique consignment stores Johnson owned for 25 years. Within moments, Johnson approaches the door. But before she turns the knob, I remember the words her publicist shared: “Fair warning, she's a charmer.”
After spending only a few minutes with Johnson, this becomes apparent.
Just like in her commercials, Johnson wears her signature tinted glasses, which conceal her hazel eyes. Her platinum white hair frames her smooth skin, and her crimson red lips match her manicured nails. At 86 years old, Johnson is bold, brave and beautiful.
“Please call me Elena,” she says. An Italian native, Johnson speaks with her motherland's cadence and a hint of a southern drawl, which she undoubtedly picked up while living in Houston for 35 years.
Following Molly's lead, Johnson happily gives a tour of her home. It's filled with antiques and eclectic trinkets, and it has the touch of a woman, whose life has been fully lived.
She grew up in Verona, Italy, where she has fond memories of getting ice cream in the evening with her parents, and not-so-fond memories of bombs echoing throughout the city during World War II. She experienced young love and sorrow when she became a war bride at 18 years old. A widow by age 37, she was left to raise five children on her own. She learned perseverance and success when at 40 years old, despite having only a sixth-grade education, she not only pursued interior design but excelled at it in Houston. She eventually landed notable clients including Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the former first lady of China, and movie stars such as Debra Paget and Gene Tierney. She struggled with financial adversity and new beginnings when her career suffered the repercussions of Houston's oil crisis.
By age 60, she moved to Palm Beach for a fresh start with former pilot and now husband, Howard “Scrappy” Johnson. She also learned to let go, when despite their success, she sold her consignment stores nearly two years ago to focus on a new endeavor: Joint Mission.
Joint Mission, a non-profit organization, which she started in November 2015, provides furniture essentials to veterans and their families who were formerly homeless. Johnson has used her business acumen and consignment connections to create an organization that lends a helping hand to those who have served this country.
Having been married to two veterans and having had four out of her five children serve in the military, Johnson knows firsthand the hardships wives and parents go through when they have a loved one in the military.
“Every time you hear the phone ring, you're afraid that something has happened. … We have to appreciate the sacrifice the family makes,” she says.
Joint Mission works with the local U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs of West Palm Beach, the Wounded Warriors of South Florida and the veteran hospital to select veterans who need furniture items for their homes. One day, Johnson hopes her foundation will receive national recognition, allowing it to expand its efforts to help veterans in other ways, such as paying their rent.
Johnson's unwavering dedication has helped her achieve everything she has sought after. And she's not done yet.
“My dream was to have children. I did that. I wanted to be a designer. I did that,” she says. “I wanted to have a consignment shop. I did that. … Now is the time to give back.”