Dorothy G. Johnson

Dorothy Johnson, 88, daughter-in-law of the founder of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and a beloved figure at RMBL for over 50 years, passed away peacefully at her home in Pittsburg, Kan., on Feb. 20. She was born Dorothy Jeanne Greenlee on Aug. 15, 1926, in Neffs, Ohio, to a mother who taught school and a father who was the superintendent of schools. Convinced of the value of learning at an early age, she passed this on to her own family, and she loved being a teacher herself. She taught English as a second language for many years at Pittsburg State University, Kansas, and also taught Spanish in the Pittsburg public schools. However, it was the joy of helping international students feel at home that she loved the most. Nurturing everyone she met was Dorothy’s special talent. She graduated from Ohio State University, where after the end of World War II she met a returning serviceman named John Chr i stopher (Chris) Johnson, Jr. They were married on July 3, 1948, and enjoyed more than 63 years together before he passed away in 2012. Their lives took them for a year to Puerto Rico just after they were married, then to the University of Oklahoma for seven years while he earned a Ph.D. in biology, and then to Pittsburg, Kan., for the rest of their lives. Chris was a member of the Pittsburg State University Department of Biology 1956 – 87, retiring as Professor Emeritus. However, part or all of nearly every summer was spent at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory at Gothic, near Crested Butte. Together, Chris and Dorothy gave RMBL their all for half a century and helped move the institution into a modern era of science. Chris, whose forebears on his mother’s side arrived in Gunnison County in 1880, was the son of RMBL’s founder, John C. Johnson, himself born in a sod house on Colorado’s eastern prairie. The elder Dr. Johnson was a member of the first faculty, in 1911, of the college in Gunnison, now Western State Colorado University. He founded the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory in 1928 and was its director and driving force for 30 years. Chris’ entire life was centered around RMBL, a labor of love for the Johnson family. As a young man, Chris was a member of the RMBL crew, often for no pay, and held many positions there over the years, including Director from 1968-77, pivotal years for the institution. He served for many years on the RMBL Board of Trustees. Dorothy first came to RMBL as a bride in 1949 and stepped in as needed over many decades, always unpaid. Among other activities, she managed the RMBL dining hall and was the organizing energy behind the weekly Gothic News, the lively source for 20 years of RMBL summer news, in pre-Internet days. Perhaps most importantly, she was a caring and attentive friend and advisor to hundreds of students and scientists who spent time in Gothic. Chris was a good listener and a steady presence, known as a person of great integrity who held confidences and calmed the waters. Dorothy’s warmth and interest in others was unending. These qualities helped move RMBL forward, as RMBL and field science underwent transformative change. Together, Chris and Dorothy formed treasured friendships throughout the Gunnison Valley, set the tone for a collaborative and congenial culture at RMBL, welcomed generations of scientists, students, staff and visitors to the historic log cabin they occupied at Gothic, and helped RMBL become a strong community and one of the world’s preeminent biological field stations. They were enormously proud of what RMBL has become and its place in the world. Chris and Dorothy raised three children, Carol, Doug and Dan, who spent many happy summers growing up and rollicking at Gothic. Following their retirement, Chris and Dorothy summered at their home on the river in Gunnison and continued to support RMBL and its people in many ways. Dorothy was preceded in death by her husband, Chris; her brother, Tom Greenlee; and her sister, Margaret Caldwell. She was survived by her brother, Bill Greenlee; daughter, Carol Johnson and her husband, Russ Miller, and their daughters, Avery and Vera Miller; her son, Douglas Johnson and his wife, Kim Johnson, and their children, Katy and Jake Johnson, and Jake’s wife, Hannah Johnson; her son Daniel Johnson (June 25, 1957 – March 24, 2015), and his former wife, Kristin Johnson, and their children, Aidan and Sophie Johnson; and many nieces and nephews. She is also survived by Chris Johnson’s sister, Clea Greenawalt, of Gunnison. Interment will be in the family plot in the Gunnison Cemetery. An informal gathering to share favorite stories about Dorothy Johnson is set for 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 26 at the RMBL Community Center in Gothic. Please stay for dinner at 6 p.m., courtesy of RMBL in Dorothy’s honor. Please RSVP by July 24 to 970.349.7420 or and also indicate whether you prefer a vegetarian meal.

Gunnison Country Times

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