James JohnsonJames Johnson, 84, formerly Jamestown, ND
James Donald Johnson, Ph.D., July 23, 1927-July 25, 2011. Dedicated husband, father, grandfather, colleague, and friend; Dr. “Jim” Johnson was a lifelong learner, educator, administrator, writer, orator, athlete, and sports fan. He championed excellence in all facets of life. He strived to balance family, academic, professional pursuits and community service through tenacity and a great sense of humor. He was awarded a Bachelors from Jamestown College, a Masters in History from the University of North Dakota and both a Masters and a Doctorate in Political Science from the University of Michigan, earning Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi. Jim extended pursuit of his Doctorate to devote time to teaching and raising his family.
Born in Jamestown, North Dakota to John Johnson (from Denmark) and Veshti Sheldon (of English colonial ancestry), Jim’s mother died shortly after his birth. Jim’s father married Bertha Paul Johnson, who raised Jim with love, encouragement, and a strong work ethic. Jim maintained lifelong friendships with John Jensen, Jack Brown, George Johnson, and Sid Grandy. During high school Jim excelled as a quarterback, a pitcher, and a State champion relay runner. After high school, he served in the Navy at Pensacola, Florida, was honorably discharged, and went on to college under the GI Bill, first at Jamestown College and later at the University of North Dakota. His book, A History of the Midland Continental Railroad 1906-1950 will be published in 2012 as part of a foundation.
Jim was captivated by English and history teacher Natalie Rose Erickson and married her on August 12, 1953. They moved to Bessemer, Michigan to teach high school, and later to Ann Arbor for Jim to complete his 2nd masters’ degree and begin his doctorate at the U of M. Jim taught at the University of Oklahoma in Norman for 6 years with 2 sabbaticals to Ottawa, Canada for research, and returned to Ann Arbor with Natalie to raise their family and teach at Eastern Michigan University.
Dr. Johnson retired as a professor from EMU after nearly 30 years of teaching, including 7 years as chairman of the department of Political Science. He routinely received awards for excellence in teaching and was often cited for his effectiveness as an administrator. An authority on Canadian government and comparative European politics, his interests expanded to law, and public policy, and he was inspired to attend the University of Michigan Law School for his final sabbatical. Responsible for teaching and recruiting some of “the best of the best,” Dr. Johnson was known for his humor, often toasting meritorious accomplishments with lyrics he wrote to the “Sweet Georgia, Brown” tune. Dr. Johnson gave to his community encouraging gifted students at Green Hills High School in Ann Arbor and teaching college courses to inmates at correctional facilities.
Balancing demands of teaching and writing with those of his family, Jim’s priority was his children. The Johnson backyard was a neighborhood gathering place where Jim created ice skating rinks, putting greens, swing sets, sandboxes, or tennis and baseball backboards to encourage an array of interests. Jim took time to show all how to throw a perfect spiral, catch a curveball, and pass a relay baton. Jim was fond of saying, “We are raising children, not grass,” and he and his wife, Natalie were always there for tennis, swimming, baseball, karate, dance, skating, drama, art, scouting, winter camping, science fairs, writing help, and math competitions. He and Natalie inspired academic, professional, athletic and artistic excellence; their children’s pursuits include engineering, architecture, teaching, economics, biostatistics and professional tennis. Grandson Peter aspires to be a history professor.
Neil, Carol, Eric and David appreciate the time and talents our father shared with us. He encouraged, by example, voracity for learning. He taught us to write and speak with confidence and from the heart, and to launch student council political campaigns with heartfelt values and humorous cartoon character endorsements. As a family we learned together a new word a day; we memorized poetry or prose to recite on Sundays in a tradition Jim began in his college days. We fondly remember his recitals from A Psalm of Life by Longfellow: “Lives of Great Men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, And departing leave behind us, Footprints on the sands of time; Let us then be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.”
In his final weeks, Jim was surrounded by the loving presence of his family. Jim is survived by his wife Natalie Rose (Erickson) Johnson, sons Neil (Jennifer and Katie), Eric (Susan, Andrew, Eliot and Jayne), David, and daughter Carol (Johnson) Kartje (Tim and Peter) and extended family.
Memorial contributions for the “Dr. James Donald Johnson Scholarship Endowment” may be sent to www.EMUfoundation. org EMU Foundation, 1349 S. Huron St., Ypsilanti, MI 48197-7021. 734-481-2314