Amherst Magazine

 imageDONALD F. JOHNSON (1936-2007)

Don Johnson grew up in Duluth, Minn. At Amherst he sang in the Glee Club, worked on the Student and was a member of Phi Delta Sigma. His special love for music was immediately apparent. Jim Karet, a fellow freshman resident of Stearns 4, remembers that Don played the guitar and was very knowledgeable about guitar and cello players.

Classmates remember him as quiet, reserved and private. Yet he could also go along with the gag. Fraternity brother Win Smith recalls an incident in which a group led by Peter Strauss tried to hypnotize Don. The effort was apparently successful. Don was told not to remember the name of anything wet; and when he came out of the hypnotism, the group pointed to the snow on the ground and said, “What’s that?” All he could say was, “Minnesota.”

After graduating from Amherst, Don spent two years in the Navy. He then moved to New York City to begin a career in public relations. Five years later, he moved to San Francisco, where he spent the next twenty years. He returned to his native Duluth in 1985 to handle the sale and disposition of family-held undeveloped real estate in northern Minnesota. Having accomplished this, he retired in 2002.

During more than twenty years in Duluth, Don was a serious cultural force. He was very active in the Duluth Playhouse as an actor and, later, as a stage manager and director. He acted in “Kiss Me Kate,” “Murder at the Vicarage” and “84 Charing Cross Road.” An all-time favorite was “You Can’t Take It With You.”

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Don was similarly active in the Duluth musical scene. He served on the boards of the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra and the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. In the civic arena, he supported the Second Chance Endowment Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation.

A friend recalls that ”Don always had an appreciation of the finer arts yet could knock your socks off in a round of TV Jeopardy.” He played Mahjong and bridge weekly. In his last year he joined the University of Minnesota Duluth for seniors. He taught a class there about which he was very excited, titled “Great Music from Broadway Flops.” His enrollment was large and always present. Don provided significant financial support to all these Duluth cultural institutions. He had been a member of the Class’s 50th Reunion Gift
Committee but had to resign in spring 2007 due to declining health. Don had hoped very much to attend the reunion, recalls Allen Clark from a conversation a few months before he died. Don also told Allen that he had already made his donation to the class’s 50th fund several years earlier. He had apparently inherited a sizable amount from his father and knew he would like to give it to Amherst. Since he saw no personal need for the
money, he wanted Amherst to have it right away. “Why wait,” he said.

 

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Don, in front of Enger Tower, a Duluth landmark, in 2006


In his later years Don was plagued by various health and medical problems but always seemed to bear them with good cheer. John Bischof spoke at length with him in June, 2007 and came away impressed by his calm and philosophical acceptance of his medical situation. He never married. A brother, Jean Thomas (Fitch) Johnson, survives.

Donald Fitch Johnson died Aug. 1, 2007 of lung cancer.



Donald Fitch Johnson '58

Don Johnson died on August 1, 2007, of lung cancer.  Don was born in Duluth, MN, on July 9, 1936, and prepared for Amherst at DenfieldHigh School. 

At Amherst, Don majored in English, was a member of the Glee Club, and worked on the Amherst Student.  His fraternity was Phi Delta Sigma, and his participation there is memorialized by a picture in the Phi Delt section of the 1958 Olio showing Don being part of a delegation of Phi Delts, led by Bob Kleeb, who went to Valentine Hall for dinner dressed in black tie (see page 51).  Classmates remember Don as one who was quiet, reserved, and private.  Yet Don could also go along with the gag.  Fraternity brother Win Smith recalls an incident in which a group led by Peter Strauss tried to hypnotize Don.  The effort was apparently successful.  Don was told not to remember the name of anything wet; when he came out of the hypnotism, the group pointed to the snow on the ground and said, “What’s that?”  All Don could say was, “Minnesota.” 

Don had a love for music.  Later in life, he served on the board of the Lake Superior Chamber Orchestra.  Fellow freshman resident of the fourth floor of Stearns Dormitory Jim Karet remembers that Don played the guitar and was very knowledgeable on the subject of noted guitar and cello players.


After graduating from Amherst, Don spent two years in the US Navy, then moved to New York City and began a career in public relations.  Five years later, he moved to San Francisco, where he spent the next twenty years.

Don returned to his native Duluth in 1985 to handle the sale and disposition of family-held undeveloped real estate.  Having accomplished this, he retired in 2002.  In addition to his service with the chamber orchestra, Don was involved with the Duluth Playhouse.

Don had a great love for Amherst.  I can remember from my service as Class agent (1991 to 1998) how appreciative Don always was of my efforts.  Mike Spero and Joe McDonald can testify to Don’s generous financial support of Amherst in later years and his support of the Class’ fundraising efforts in general.  He had been a member of the Class’ 50th Reunion Gift Committee but had to resign in the spring of 2007 due to his declining health.  Amherst has lost a devoted friend.

Don was plagued by various health and medical problems in his later years but always seemed to bear them with good cheer.  I had a long talk with him in June of 2007 and was impressed by his calm and philosophical acceptance of his coming end. 

Don is predeceased by his natural parents, Jean Allen and Joyce Fitch, and by his adoptive parents Lloyd and Marion Johnson.  A brother, Jean Thomas (Fitch) Johnson, survives as does his friend of the last ten years, Laurie Carlson.  To these, the Class extends its condolences.  A memorial service was held on August 9, 2007.   

 

—John E. G. Bischof ’58

 

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