--- Updated October 15, 27, 2013

Former Erie Public Housing resident Colonel Doris Tate-Johnson, U.S. Army retired, was one of two keynote speakers at the Erie Housing Authority’s 75th Anniversary Celebration on October 11.

Speaking with her was Dr. Jay Badams, superintendent of the Erie School District.

Colonel Tate-Johnson was a high school dropout and a single mother at the age of 16.  She went on to obtain a college education and became a U.S. Army nurse, approaching the ethnic and gender challenges of being black and female as opportunities for growth.

She received her Bachelor of Science in nursing from Villa Maria College; a Master of Science in Nursing Administration from Arizona State University; and a Masters of Public Administration from Golden Gate University.

As Chief of Nursing Operations at Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, she served as the Nursing Human Resource Administrator and subject matter expert for all civilian nursing personnel matters and was responsible for civilian nurse recruiting, hiring, and orientation. She was responsible for administrative management of nursing resources and a $27.5 million budget encompassing personal service contracts, medical and non-medical supplies, and civilian payroll.

Colonel Tate-Johnson was honored by the Housing Authority in 1998 as a “hero of public housing.”

In 1999 Colonel Tate Johnson received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Gannon University. She retired from the Army with the rank of Colonel in 2009 after a 28-year career.

Colonel Tate Johnson is married to Marvin (Snap) Johnson and has two daughters, four grandchildren and one great grandchild.


In her remarks, she said:

Good Evening,

I am both honored and flattered to have been asked to speak on this great occasion. Wow! 75 years of helping people grow and develop into self-sufficient citizens. As one of those people you helped, I would like to AGAIN, thank you, Mr. Horan, your board of directors and your staff for the opportunity to grow and make a difference. As you said in your message, "The road out of poverty is a process and the key ingredients are education, training and opportunity." Such a true statement! Those three ingredients were my blueprint to becoming self-sufficient.

As I reflect on the powerful impact that the Housing Authority made on my life, the lives of my family, and the lives of all the people I have touched over the years, I am overwhelmed with heartfelt appreciation and gratitude. I am deeply humbled.

The housing authority made it possible for me to dream-to dream of becoming a nurse.


Being a single parent on welfare, affordable housing was critical to my well-being and the well-being of my kids. Living in public housing gave me a sense of security-- a feeling of well-being. My self-esteem and self-confidence increased, I found the courage to go after my dreams, to embrace my challenges, to persevere, and to never, ever, ever give up.

Without the help from the Housing Authority, I cannot begin to imagine where I would be today.

I was working on my GED just prior to securing housing. When I met with Mr. Horan, I was so nervous and scared that he would judge me for my past mistakes (getting pregnant and having to drop out of high school). However, he was so kind and so caring. He asked me what were my plans after getting my GED and I replied, "I want to be a nurse and take care of people." He never once mentioned my past mistakes! He said he thought it was great that I wanted to a nurse. He encouraged me to go after my dream. My dream became a reality in 1978. I love nursing! Caring for people who need medical care was my nitch. It felt so good to be able to give back through my service to others. I was later introduced to the military environment through my employment at the VA hospital. I saw that I could become even more self-sufficient through military service. My positive experience with public housing taught me that I could overcome any obstacles if I had the right attitude. So despite ethnic and gender challenges, I pursued a military career. It was tough but I knew I had made a good decision. I knew my heart was in the right place and I had the right attitude. Remembering my positive public housing experience, made me feel encouraged during tough times. As Winston Churchill said, "ATTITUDE IS A LITTLE THING THAT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE." I truly believe it made all the difference in the direction of my military career. Serving others through my nursing care and serving my country through military service, were two selfless ways of giving back.

And finally, the Housing Authority's impact on my family has been and continues to be nothing short of a blessing from God. I have a wonderful husband of over 30 years who stuck by me and made many sacrifices through the years. He adopted my children and made them "OURS." Both of our daughters completed graduate school and are giving back through their jobs. My neice, Nadine Leach, who also lived in public housing with her mom, my sister, Nealy, completed her degree and is giving back to the Erie community on a daily basis as owner and CEO of the "Handle with Care" Daycare Center. OMG! Nadine is a self-starter who is light years beyond her peers. She is one of the most giving professionals I know! Her brother, Matt Leach is proudly serving in the Marine Corps-giving back through selfless service to his country. My sister, Lula also lived in public housing. She currently owns her own home and is a tax paying citizen. She gave back to the Erie community through her job before retiring a year or so ago. She continues to give back through volunteer work at her church.

A past resident of public housing, my sister, Nealy, has been employed with the Housing Authority for over 42 years. She is a model example of the three ingredients to self-sufficiency(education-training-opportunity). TeTe is the only mother I have ever known. I was only seven months old when she was given the responsibility to mother me.

In summary, when I reflect on the major things that impacted my life (with the exception of my husband and children), the following four things come to mind:

1. My sister, Nealy's never-ending support and PRAYERS

2. My 28 years of selfless service to my country

3. Successfully graduating from Villa Maria College, and becoming a nurse

And last but certainly not least:

4. My life changing experience living in public housing

Thank You!


The Housing Authority is the oldest operating authority in the City of Erie and is one of the oldest authorities in Pennsylvania and in the country.  It has provided affordable housing for 75,000 citizens of Erie from World War II into the 21st century.

The Authority is proud of its role in the Erie Community and welcomes you to celebrate its 75 years of service.

The gala event, featuring dinner, entertainment, and our distinguished keynote speakers, was held at the Bayfront Convention Center.