Theodore Clark Johnson, longtime Gunnison resident and Emeritus Professor at Western Colorado University, known to his students as “T.C.” and “Doc”, died Thursday, April 18, in Salt Lake City, Utah at the age of 94. His daughter and sonin-law were by his side.
Ted was born in Rockford, Ill., on Feb. 14, 1925 to Emil Gustaf and Faith J. (Bettis) Johnson. Ted is survived by his daughter Candice Ann Johnson (Edward Ashwood) of Park City, Utah and Denver, Colo.; grandson, Sage Clark Johnson (Joellen) and great grandsons Piven Clark and Cohen James of Machesney Park (Rockford), Ill. Four nephews and one niece also survive him. He was preceded in death by his wife Dorothy and son Michael Clark Johnson.
Born and raised in Rockford, Ill., Ted lived in a two-story flat on Longwood Street, together with his parents and maternal grandparents as an only child. His father worked as shop foreman at Rockford Drop Forge.
Ted did not excel academically in high school, but that would change in later life. As a teenager, his passion was athletics. Ted was on the track team and the star center of the Rockford East High School basketball team. He loved acting in school plays. His starring role was as Abraham Lincoln making an impressive presence on stage with his handsome countenance, sparkling blue eyes, bold voice, and six-foot four stature. His experiences on the stage and before an audience would transform and shape the rest of his life.
Following graduation in 1943, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He trained at Camps Peary and Pendleton and served as Navy Seaman First class, 13th Special Construction Battalion attached to U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific theater during WWII. Ted was very proud of his military service and would often sing or whistle, “Anchor’s Away” and “Marine’s Hymn”. It was not unusual to hear him greet a fellow veteran with a “Semper Fi”. His war experience would be the second transformational element in his life, creating an underlying tenacity to question, probe, and challenge to discover meaning in life. After military service, he returned to Rockford, married his long-time friend, Dorothy Soderna. Ted and Dorothy would be married for 66 years.
Ted completed his undergraduate education at Northern Illinois State Teachers College in DeKalb, Ill. He received his bachelors degree in education with a concentration in Speech-Drama and Social Studies. He was on his way to become a teacher. Ted belonged to Alpha Psi Omega – Honorary Drama Fraternity; Alpha Phi Omega – National Service Fraternity; Kappa Delta Pi – National Education Society; served as President of Pi Kappa Delta – National Forensic Fraternity, and the Cavaliers – Honorary Scholastic Fraternity.
His love of the dramatic arts would blossom as he earned a M.A. degree and a Ph.D. in Speech and Dramatic Arts and Literature from the University of Iowa. From 1951 to 1955 he taught courses in Radio History, Radio Speech, Public Speaking, Theatre, and Forensics (debate) at Iowa State University. He also served as the Director of Children’s Radio, Director of Experimental Radio and Theatre Productions, and a photographer for Visual Aid Production at Iowa State. While pursuing these studies, his son, Michael, was born in 1951 and daughter, Candice, in 1953.
In 1956, Ted joined the faculty of Western State College (now, Western Colorado University) where he served as a Professor of Communication and Theatre for 45 years. As a young faculty member, he directed many plays and coached the debate team. The Johnson family and a troupe of actors and debaters often camped and fished together in the Gunnison area. Around the campfire there was always intense debate and discussion.
Devoted to academic excellence, Ted taught over 42 different courses in English, literature, communications (public address, rhetoric, persuasion), theatre history, technical theatre (set design, lighting) radio history and the law, and radio speaking. While serving as Chairman for the Department of Arts and Humanities, he established the first interdisciplinary courses in classical Greek, Renaissance, and Medieval European subjects and the first Mass Media Laboratory and Photography program as well as an International Language Program in France, Austria, and Mexico. He was proud to lead the formation of the “Culture of the West Institute” and the non-professional summer theatre programs at Western. His favorite course, “Symbols,” was his pride and joy. Ted was fascinated with ancient Greece, it’s history and philosophy. He studied the Greek language and during the late 1980s he traveled to Greece and attended the University of Colorado to pursue Classical studies.
Ted loved the Gunnison area and enjoyed camping, hunting, and fishing trips into the hills with his family. He enjoyed weightlifting and karate. He never went anywhere without a book, he never stopped learning or teaching. He was constantly reading and philosophizing about the “world of Ideas.” Ted could be a fearsome force, out-spoken and opinionated, argumentative and challenging to everyone. Even his family members often had to “make the case” and “provide the evidence” in order to change his opinion on a matter. But his confrontational character was part of a pursuit of truth and excellence. He was committed to clarity of thought and critical examination of ideas and issues.
Following retirement, Ted provided home care for his mother-in-law, and son, until their deaths. Ted was the main caregiver to his wife, Dorothy, and visited her every day at the Gunnison Valley Health Senior Care Center until her death. Later, Ted moved to Salt Lake City to be close to his daughter.
At high noon on a glorious sunny day, Ted closed his eyes and peacefully passed away. A life well lived.
Many thanks to the countless number of students who wrote letters to him over the years and confirmed that they were deeply influenced by him and passed along his legacy of great teaching to their own students. Through his teaching Ted has truly become immortal.
Many thanks to the staff of Brookdale Senior Living of Salt Lake City, Bristol Hospice and his doctor, Carole Baraldi, M.D., for their patient and devoted care.
No services are planned at this time. Please share memories and condolences at www.serenityfhs.com.