Student Union Building
875 Perimeter Drive MS 4264
Moscow, ID 83844-4264
1031 N. Academic Way,
Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814
A Father’s Legacy
Professor of Educational Leadership Michael Johnson ’71,’73 is a devoted Vandal; it’s a passion for which he credits his father. After a varied career in education and business that took him to Texas, Iowa, California, Washington and Alaska, Johnson has returned to his alma mater to teach at the University of Idaho, Boise.
“I came back to the University of Idaho as a professor to give back some of what I was so fortunate to have received here: a wonderful education, passion for learning and a plethora of knowledge and skills,” says Johnson.
But the diploma that is displayed on his office bookcase isn’t one of his. It’s the University of Idaho diploma earned by his father, Harold ‘71. “I also wanted to return to the Silver and Gold in honor of my father,” he adds.
His father, Harold Johnson, grew up in St. Maries, and came to the University of Idaho on the GI Bill. But, he left the University just six credits short of earning his bachelor’s degree in business. He had a family to support – a wife and four children – and he chose to take a job managing the new Tri-State store in Moses Lake, Wash. But his dedication to and passion for the University remained constant.
“My mom grew up in Kellogg and was a Vandal, too, so we grew up singing “Silver and Gold” at every campfire and family gathering,” recalls Michael. “We all knew that we were going to college at the University of Idaho. Dad would always make a special point of saying, ‘You’ve got to get that parchment paper!’ His passion for getting a degree and what he sacrificed for us inspired us to finish.”
Michael was so inspired, he earned a bachelor’s degree in education with a major in psychology and a master’s in special education at Idaho, and later, a doctoral degree at the University of Oregon.
At age 47, Harold had a heart attack and could no longer work as a building contractor. He was given an opportunity to return to the University of Idaho and complete what he left unfinished nearly 20 years earlier.
On June 22, 1971, he completed his final academic requirements for his degree. It also was his 25th wedding anniversary. “He stopped by my apartment to get his belongings, and drove back to our family home in St. Maries,” recalls Michael. “He died two hours later of a massive heart attack.”
His diploma arrived in the mail a few weeks later.
“His final act in life was getting that ‘parchment paper’ from the University of Idaho, a symbol of completion that was so important to him,” said Michael.
And for Michael, there is an act of completion in returning to the University.
“My position here is so much more than a job,” he said. “It’s an act of giving back, or you might say, 'paying it forward' to the Silver and Gold, because this place made my life such an amazing adventure. I can honor both my father’s journey and what he felt in his heart, and what my family feels in our hearts, for the University of Idaho.”