I never got to have Mr. Johnson as a teacher.
And it's still one of the big (but very few) disappointments of my grade-school days at in Geneva.
I read in the Kane County Chronicle that Bill Johnson died at the age of 87. (Really nice story by Ashley Rhodebeck, datelined St. Charles.) God bless him and his family, because Mr. Johnson was one of those people who build a life around helping kids learn, grow and develop into better people and adults.
There's no better calling or achievement in life, when you stop to think about it.
Everyone at Harrison Street School looked forward to being in Mr. Johnson's class, for a lot of reasons. Being in the sixth grade meant you'd made it, as the Sinatra song goes—top of the list, king of the hill, A No. 1. You also got to put on the sixth-grade class play, which was a big deal in those days, and I'm pretty sure Mr. Johnson either directed the play or had a key role in making it happen.
We didn't get those opportunities, because the Geneva High School Class of 1975 was also the first class of sixth-graders in the then-newly-organized Coultrap Middle School. (Prior to that year, Coultrap was a junior high school for seventh- and eighth-graders.)
So we went to Coultrap, skipped the whole "top of the list" gig, and missed out on having Mr. Johnson for a teacher.
Which I'm told, then and now, was a very cool thing. He was one of the few male teachers in those days, and there seemed to be neat things going on inside that classroom, like science experiments, and he always led field trips to exotic locales like Good Templar Park or Island Park.
The obituary in the Chronicle notes a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29, at the , 994 N. 5th Ave., St. Charles, and suggests that memorials go to St. Charles Episcopal Church or to Boy Scout Troop 25 in care of St. Charles Episcopal Church.
I learn from both of these articles that Scouting was a big part of Mr. Johnson's life. In fact, the Chron headline calls Johnson "a Scouting legend." The obit says he was the founder of Troop 25 and was instrumental in founding Troop 46 in Geneva. He's apparently won numerous Scoutmaster awards, helped 70-plus young people earn Eagle Scout status and there's even a Three Fires Council award named after him: the "Bill Johnson Outstanding Scoutmaster Award."
I also learn from these articles that his name was Bill—William LeRoy Johnson, to be exact. "Mr. J" to those who knew him.
It was always "Mr. Johnson" to me, and probably always will be.
It's perhaps an important and a little sad side note to realize we've lost two Harrison Street School legends this year. , the Harrison Street School principal for many of the years when Mr. Johnson taught, died this summer. You can read Kurt Wehrmeister's tribute to Payleitner
I only knew each of them as a little boy looking up at adults who seem larger than life, but from what I remember and what I've read, it's easy to see that they were both educators, both good men—thick threads in the fabric of the community, cut from the same good cloth.