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Charity surprises retiring 93-year-old volunteer to show gratitude for every 'Johnny Day'

Special people make you feel like you've known them all your life.

Our Person of the Week, Johnny Olup of Asheville, is like a walking comfort blanket.

"Everything we do, stays for this area," explains Olup.

The past four years, Eblen Charities has counted on "Johnny Days."

"Have fun, I guess, is what it amounts to," Johnny says, summing up his philosophy for the years ahead.

The admiration for him explains why someone called him to our attention.

"You're something else," he says, hugging a fellow volunteer as he wonders who called News 13. "Everybody says no, it wasn't me!"

Volunteers like Johnny donate their time with a smile.

"I feel better now," he says with a laugh, hanging donated clothes with a team of others giving their time to the cause.

Last week, it seemed unfathomable it was their last Johnny Day for a while.

"I guess the main reason I'm retiring is because I want to move on to other things I want to do in life," he says. "Because I don't have many years left at 93."

Even in his 90s, giving back has been his passion.

"He's a great man," says Charles Koontz, a fellow volunteer and former WLOS Person of the Week. "We're going to miss him."

"I've got other things in life I want to do," Johnny said. "I want to move on. My son lives with me now, and we want travel."

As a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he's spent much of his life all over the globe.

Also, he was a pilot for United Airlines for 32 years.

Not long after his wife passed away, Johnny began volunteering for Eblen to stay active.

But how do you thank a man who's served his country and his community?

"Oh my gosh, hey what's going on here?" he said, walking into a conference room at Eblen Charities.

He was applauded by a crowd of folks on hand for a surprise retirement luncheon.

"Jeez, what do I say, what a surprise," he said. "I had no idea. You guys are good at keeping secrets, you know that!"

Executive Director Bill Murdock presented him the Eblen Award for Meritorious Public Service. Johnny's one of only five to earn the distinction.

"To honor outstanding contributions to Western North Carolina in the field of public service," Murdock told him.

It was humbling to a humble man.

"Oh gosh, thank you all," Johnny said, shaking Murdock's hand. "Nice honor. I appreciate this."

"I'm surprised you've gone to so much effort for me," he said to the crowd.

"How much effort have you put in for us?" Murdock responded.

"Well, maybe a little bit," Johnny said. "But thanks again for everything."

Even the bittersweet days are better, when it's a Johnny Day.

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