John Johnson

August 10, 1948 ~ September 8, 2020 (age 72)


John Amos Johnson, a fisherman, builder who raced a ’57 Chevy, was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals, recorded an album while still in high school, and was a cherished husband, father, and grandfather died Tuesday at home surrounded by loved ones.

He was 72.

Born in Philo, to Virgil and Lillie Johnson on August 10, 1948, he was the fifth of six children. Johnson grew up working at his father’s shop, Johnson Welding and Repair, learning mechanics and metal work alongside his brothers. Gifted in mathematics, Johnson was designing and fabricating parts and projects from an early age. He won first prize in the seventh-grade science fair for building a Van Der Graaff Generator – a small proton accelerator – from parts he found around his family shop.

“You could scare yourself with this thing. You start getting closer and you start getting a real lightening bolt to your finger and it will give you a pretty good jolt all the way to your shoulder,” he said recently when asked about the prize-winning device.

He attended Unity High School, graduating in 1966 lettering in football, baseball, drama, and band. He played trumpet on a recording of the song ‘Bugler’s Holiday’ with two other bandmates as part of a state competition, while still in school.

A tremendous all-around athlete, and lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, Johnson was scouted by the ball club for his pitching and seemed destined for a career as a professional athlete until he had to undergo knee surgery due to complications.

Johnson worked several jobs throughout his life. He was a welder, designing and installing the duct systems used by McCormick & Company to move cryogenically-frozen spices at factories in Baltimore and Chattanooga, Tenn. He worked with some of the best industrial engineers in the country on jobs for the company, but they inevitably fell back on the Johnson’s mathematical gifts and the lessons he learned in his father’s shop in Philo.

While highly sought after by McCormick & Company for projects around the world, he wanted to remain close to his family and friends. In the 1980s he began working for his brother Kenny Johnson at Johnson Rentals. There, alongside a regular crew of workers who became good friends, he was a contractor helping design and build several apartment buildings which shaped the skyline of the campus of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.

Later, Johnson was a property manager for those buildings as well as others, responsible repair and upkeep for hundreds of rental units across the city.

When he wasn’t answering late night calls for broken pipes and garbage disposals, Johnson spent much of his free-time helping his friends, his kids, and his neighbors fix their cars and homes.

Johnson’s home shop and his telephone were rarely free from someone else’s problems. Whether is was a child  -- or later grandchild -- in need of advice, or a friend with a broken car, Johnson treated each with the same patience, and a smile on his face. After he heard them out, he would list two or three solutions and, more often than not, offer to help.

But whether helping others for work or in his personal life, he was never far from his beloved wife Penny Johnson. The two were school yard friends who began dating later in life and blended their families into a warm household filled with kids, grandkids, trips across the country to visit their extended family and attend NASCAR races.

As their family grew through marriages and grandchildren, a home on Lake of Egypt became his favorite destination. With a two-bedroom house, a camper outside, and a pontoon boat on the water, the secluded nook turned into a vacation spot for loved ones to congregate for birthdays and celebrations of all kinds.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his brothers Howard, of Champaign, Don, of Philo, and sister Bonnie, of Urbana, and his first wife Kay. He is survived by his wife Penny Johnson. Daughters, Shannon (Matt); Shelby (Randy); Christi ((Mark); Tricia; and sons O'Ryan (Tiffany); and Travis (Beth); as well as, grandchildren: Cameron (Ariel); Connor (Kaitlyn); Colin; Brittany (Spencer); Chelsea (Shaun); Caitlynn, Cheyanne (Peter); Ciara (Joey); Stephanie; Courtney; Riley; Cole; Tova; Colton (Alexis); and Jada. Great Grandchildren Aubrey; Adalynn, Dylan, Tobias, Colby, Dravin, Aundrea, Tatum, and Marlee. Brothers Kenny (Betty); and Roy (Trudy).

John was loved by all that knew him and never met a stranger. His life long advice to all was to, "pay attention" and "watch out for the crazies".
He would tell you that if you do nothing else in life, "wet a line and proceed to party".

Visitation will be from 11:00 AM to 1:00 PM Saturday, September 12, 2020 at Freese Funeral Home, Sidney.  Graveside services will be held at 1:30PM, Saturday, September 12, 2020 at Locust Grove Cemetery, Philo with Rev. Glenn Corbly officiating.

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