Former Mayor Johnny Webb’s Enduring Commitment to Community Innovation

by | Aug 2023

WOVEN INTO the very fabric of our identities as proud community members are the legacy of former mayor and chairman Johnny Webb’s Operation Paint, Repair, Improve, Develop, and Enjoy (PRIDE) — a special beautification effort that has left a mark on our hearts. This initiative has taken our community from the depths of economic struggle to a thriving hub of innovation, entrepreneurship, economic growth, and pure excitement. Project PRIDE embodies the transformative power of an unwavering passion for community development.

After completing his studies at Western Kentucky University in the 1960s, Webb initially ventured into the business world, selling visual products for 3 1/2 years. But his entrepreneurial spirit soon led him to establish Southern Schools Supply, a retail chain known as Parent Teacher Stores. This endeavor flourished for 25 years, solidifying Webb’s reputation as a thriving regional business owner.

The businessman remarked, “I started with basically nothing and turned it into a rather large company where we had 28 salespeople traveling in about seven states and the retail stores.” 

But fate had something unexpected in store for Webb as his business neared its final chapter. Approached with the idea of running for mayor, he initially brushed it off, considering it a mere passing thought. Yet, persistent voices and a growing belief in his capacity to effect positive change slowly swayed his heart. 

In 1992, Webb assumed the role of mayor, committing to serve a single term and make tough decisions guided solely by his unwavering dedication to the community’s best interests.

Photographed by Brittany Johnson.

Stepping into leadership during challenging times, Webb inherited a city plagued by low employee morale and neglected residential and commercial properties that hindered industrial recruitment. 

“One of the things I did when I was mayor is that I got involved with economic development, and then our city had fallen into disrepair. Residential and commercial properties were not being maintained. And that was hurting us as far as industrial recruitment. So I started a beautification nonprofit called Operation Pride,” he remarked. 

Undeterred by the daunting task ahead, he and a strong team of dedicated community members embarked on a mission to rejuvenate Bowling Green. Webb’s unwavering passion for economic development led him to establish Operation PRIDE — a nonprofit organization that enhances the city’s aesthetics and fosters a deep sense of community pride. 

Operation PRIDE revitalized Bowling Green through various initiatives. Notably, they rescued and restored the historic L&N Train Depot, which had deteriorated and served as a refuge for the less fortunate. 

Photographed by Brittany Johnson

Recognizing the depot’s significance to the city’s rich heritage, Webb and his team, with the help of our community, successfully acquired the property and restored it, investing approximately $6 million in the endeavor. Today, the revitalized depot stands proudly as a museum, housing a historical collection of rail cars and educational exhibits that captivate school groups and tourists alike. 

Operation PRIDE’s efforts went beyond the train depot. The initiative initiated a grand beautification campaign, focusing on the city’s main passageways. This involved cleaning, enhancing, and standardizing street signs. Landscaping efforts added vibrancy with newly planted trees and carefully cultivated wildflower beds. 

Webb and his team had an innovative vision for I-65 interchanges. They raised $4.6 million in private funds to attract travelers to Bowling Green. Operation PRIDE maintains all five interchanges and a 10-mile stretch of the interstate. The result was a captivating city gateway with stunning stone walls and bold letters showcasing Bowling Green’s identity. Fluttering American and military branch flags greet visitors, honoring our patriotism. 

“And it’s not over with yet. We’re still going,” the former mayor said. 

Photographed by Brittany Johnson.

Over the last decade, Bowling Green experienced a remarkable renaissance. The city’s economic growth has been nothing short of phenomenal, with the creation of thousands of new jobs and a flourishing local economy. 

Webb continues to volunteer his time and actively contribute to the betterment of our community. His impact on Bowling Green serves as an inspiring example of how a passionate leader can rally a community, inspire change, and leave a lasting legacy of progress and pride. 

So come, wander through the hills of Bowling Green, and witness the profound impact that dedicated leadership and an abiding love for the community can have on the very fabric of our lives. 

“We have grown. The growth has been phenomenal. We’ve got about 7000 jobs here that we need people to fill. The economy is booming here in Bowling Green, Kentucky. So, we’re working hard on developing workforce housing and trying to get out in front of that and working toward improving our infrastructure to accommodate the growth that we anticipate 20 years from now. We will double the size of our city,” Webb said. GN 

More Good News