Jerry Johnson, One of The People Behind Coca-Cola’s Signature Syrup

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Community: Jerry Johnson
By Olive Gallagher, Contributing Writer

When we choose our favorite consumer products from the shelf in a supermarket and put them in our shopping cart, it’s doubtful we’ve ever wondered exactly how it’s produced or who made it. It’s also doubtful we’ve spent any time wondering who’s running the company or who invented the product in the first place. We just take for granted that the soft drink we’ve always loved will be there and will always taste the same.


Well, meet Jerry Johnson. He’s been working at the Wilsonville Coca-Cola bottling plant for the Pacific Northwest, now known as Swire Coca Cola, for the past 25 years, as a Syrup Technician in the Quality Assurance Department, making up that “magical” syrup every morning that turns ingredients into the Coke we expect to drink, all the while making certain this international brand meets its required standards of excellence. He’s one of those people in our town who “make things go.”

Jerry was born in West Virginia and raised in Wabash, Indiana. His parents divorced when he was only four and his stepdad, who was a machinist, helped his stay-at-home mom raise him along with his older sister and younger brother. When asked if there was anyone along the way that inspired him to excel and be motivated to go to college, he credits his math teacher in high school for helping him tap his hidden potential to delve into physics and advanced mathematics. Enrolled at Indiana State University, he found pleasure in the rituals of studying and attending class, and confesses, “Even now, I would go to school every day if I could.”

He worked as a machinist during the summer to earn money for tuition and books and joined the Air Force ROTC with hopes of becoming a jet pilot, but after discovering he had a color vision issue and was unable to distinguish between different shades of color, he was disqualified from getting an Air Force ROTC pilot scholarship. Realizing these ambitions were no longer possible, he added industrial and business classes to his schedule to make himself more marketable while applying to Boeing for work in the hope of moving west.

Jerry had always dreamed of seeing the Rockies and the Pacific Ocean, so when a friend landed a job at Evergreen Aviation in McMinnville, they packed up the car and headed to Oregon. In 1989, Jerry settled into an apartment in Wilsonville and got an installation job at a glass company. He then applied at the Coca-Cola facility for a temporary position in the Quality Assurance department and began pulling bottles off the line and testing them. In 1998, he began making the “magic” syrup himself.

In 2011, his wife, Colleen, was hired at Coca-Cola as a Lab Technician, and since they were both working night shifts, they kept bumping into one another. Initially, they’d go have coffee after work and didn’t realize they were actually dating until suddenly they did. Her family lives in Corvallis, and today, Jerry and Colleen are proud parents of a young son, Jeremiah. They also now work the day shift and share their parenting roles. Since Jeremiah is now in school, Jerry, who goes in early, picks his son up from school, does the grocery shopping, and prepares dinner. Like many couples today, they share the load of making things go, both at work and at home.

Along with his daily duties making the syrup, Jerry also serves on the Safety Committee at Swire, doing daily readings, monitoring meters and making certain the company’s usage of water, gas and electricity is responsible.

In his off time, Jerry still loves to be outdoors, and looks forward to weekends when he can take his young son camping and fishing. His relaxed, amicable manner and willingness to adapt to life is something to admire. As Jerry so aptly put it, “You plan. And if it doesn’t work out, you just go another way.”