Life Story / Obituary
All who knew Richard “Dick” Johnson would agree that he was an extraordinary man to know and love. He was hardworking and driven to succeed, and everything Dick did he did with his whole heart. He was an amazing husband, father, grandfather, and friend who was selfless in the way he treated others. Dick was more than just a teacher, he inspired everyone he met to pursue greatness while encouraging them along the way. An intelligent, intellectual, and deep thinking man, he will never be forgotten.
The 1930s were greatly defined by the hardship of the Great Depression. Jobs were scarce, the unemployment rate soared, and things only became more strained when a drought crippled our nation’s heartland for nearly two years. Despite these trials, Sigfried and Hildur (Hansen) Johnson were able to celebrate the birth of the their son they named Richard Lee on February 14, 1937, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a boy he loved listening to rock n roll on the radio, and he always loved Christmas. Dick was a Boy Scout who earned the honor of becoming an Eagle Scout. At Comstock Park High School he played on both the baseball and basketball teams. As a family, the Johnsons regularly attended Wealthy Street Baptist Church.
After graduating from Comstock Park High School, Dick went on to Albion College where he also played on the basketball team. He went on to earn his degree from Albion, studying business. Dick later continued his education, eventually earning his master’s degree in education from Michigan State University.
Not to be forgotten during his years in college was Dick’s introduction to the love of his life. Her name was Phyllis VanGemert, and they met while she was working at Franklin Park during the summer. Their first date was to Scotties Restaurant, and they soon fell deeply in love. With a desire to build a life together, Dick and Phyllis were married on June 12, 1961, at East Congregational Church with a honeymoon to Bermuda. The newlyweds initially lived in an apartment before building a home on the northwest side of Grand Rapids. Together they were blessed with two boys, David in 1962 and Stephen in 1967. Dick was a teacher to his children and raised them to be upstanding and productive citizens. He enjoyed cooking and had amazing skills that can only be described as gourmet. Dick and Phyllis loved entertaining and had many dinner parties complete with elaborate appetizers and fabulous meals. Every party was well planned and always had a theme.
His chosen path was to become an educator, so he made a career as a teacher. His earliest days were spent at Riverside Jr. High School and he later moved to Northview Middle School where he taught history, social studies, and English. As a teacher, Dick influenced numerous students throughout his 38 year career until retiring in 1997.
As his family and friends can attest, Dick was quite the renaissance man who was into sports, his home, education, cooking, and basketball just to name a few of his interests. As an avid reader of biographies, historical pieces, sports, and fiction, he also had hundreds of books in his home with a card catalog to keep them all straight. He was politically minded and kept up on current events both nationwide and around the world. At Christmas time, Dick enjoyed making his home festive & inviting for family and friends. He loved blues music and the classic country of Hank Williams as well as the boogie woogie music of Jerry Lee Lewis. Dick even played the piano himself, always boogie woogie.
Dick truly loved being a grandfather. He combined his love for his grandchildren with his love for sports and never missed any of their sporting events - or any of their other special days. Even just a simple visit with his grandchildren made Dick’s day. He also loved to sit in his library and watch sports with a bowl of popcorn. He regularly attended many college and high school area basketball games.
Although he accomplished so much of which to be proud, Richard Johnson was a humble man who lived to inspire others. He was a teacher in the classroom, in his home with his family, and in the world around him as a teacher of life. Dick will be forever missed.
Richard L. “Dick” Johnson, aged 78 of Grand Rapids, passed away on Tuesday morning, December 15, 2015 at Trillium Woods Hospice. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Phyllis Johnson (VanGemert); his children, David and Lisa Johnson, Stephen and Christine Johnson; his grandchildren, Allison Johnson, Kate Johnson and Christopher Johnson; his sisters-in-law and brother-in-law, Connie Peck (VanGemert), Tom (Mary) VanGemert; niece, Kristy (Matt) Mazur; nephew, John (Laura) VanGemert and many friends. Dick was a loving and dedicated, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, and a friend to all who knew him. He will be lovingly remembered and greatly missed. Dick retired from Northview Middle School where he taught for 38 years. Cremation has taken place. A service to celebrate Dick’s life will be held on Saturday December 26 at 2:00 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home – 2120 Lake Michigan Dr. NW. Relatives and friends may meet his family at the funeral home on Saturday from 12:30 until the service begins at 2:00 PM. Contributions in his memory may be made to Blanford Nature Center 1715 Hillburn Ave. NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504 (616) 735-6240. To read more about Dick’s life, to sign his guest book and to leave your own memory of him, visit his web page at www.lifestorynet.com