Mr. Johnny Returned to Utila to Share the Knowledge he Acquired
Johnny Bodden was born on US Independence Day in 1929, one hundred and twelve days before the Wall Street stock market crash that started the great depression. Mr. Johnny is part of the Silent generation, a cohort of people that worked hard and contributed greatly but were not given the recognition they deserved and were basically overlooked.
He left Utila at 11 years old to go to school on the Honduras mainland. He studied at ‘First Panamanian Instituto de Minas de Oro’ in Yoro, at Zamorano, and then at the United Fruit Company school in La Lima.
Young Bodden’s age was falsified on a document and he was presented to be three years older, just old enough to join the US merchant marine before the end of World War II in 1944. He sailed in the Mediterranean as a mate. He later salvaged ships scattered all around the World after the war, so they could be rebuilt in the US ports. This was a boom time for all kinds of businesses. People had ideas, energy, and optimism.
Everybody seemed to love Johnny Water.
His adventure of traveling around the world began as he sailed all around during and after the war. In 1960s he boarded a Guanaja fishing boat and went out to Colombia’s Quite Seno and Serrano fishing banks. The banks, while claimed by Colombia, were teaming with fish life: gigantic lobster and sharks. As luck would have it Bodden was wounded on a United Fruit Company ship and a nurse took care of him. She was Conchita, a young Honduran with German ancestors. They soon married and started a family.
After 30 years of not visiting the island, he returned to Utila to visit his mother and family. He came back to his island of youth to share his knowledge and show islanders a better way. “I installed the first electric water pump on the island,” remembers Mr. Bodden. It was the time when people were hardy, self sufficient and a bit stubborn. They drank rain water without filtering it, but few got sick.
Mr. Bodden began making water tests to educate Utilans about the pollution of the water they were drinking. He dug a 68 foot well just a few meters from his house in Utila town. That well now is the drinking water for over a thousand Utilans. “Majority of wealthy people-built tanks and cisterns,” says Bodden. But the not so wealthy were always short on water and dependent on often unfiltered water. The business found a strong and needed niche and “Johnny Water” thrived. At the peak of its success his “Johnny Water” bottles were shipped to La Ceiba and Trujillo. Everybody seemed to love Johnny Water and the inspectors from Tegucigalpa and La Ceiba appear on the island once a year to prove that the water is indeed first rate.
Today the main part of the Johnny Water business model is filling, and selling five-gallon jugs of water. A staff of three takes care of that. Robin Vigil has been working at Johnny Water for 16 years, and his coworker Walter Alexander Lopez, has worked at Johnny Water for 13 years. Twice a day they wash and fill 80-100 five-gallon containers with the filtered Johnny’s Water. “The hardness of the water is Key to good, healthy, life giving water,” says Bodden.
The production spikes during Holy Week and holidays, but nothing like it was four or five years ago when Johnny’s Water was producing 200 jugs a day. The competition has gotten fiercer, and many of the fixed costs have climbed up. The plastic bottles and jugs used to pack Johnny Water are imported from Tegucigalpa, and their shipping costs have increased tremendously. So has the competition. There are now four private companies providing drinking water to Utilans. Bushes, Island Springs, and Arches now all make and sell their own ice.
Not all water projects on Utila and Roatan are success stories. The desalination plant funded in 2009 with Honduran tax payer money and financed by the high interest loan of the World Bank only lasted a couple years. “We lend the water to show they were working, “says Mr. Bodden. He remembers the day of inauguration. “When you put wrong people in wrong places it is finished.”