James K. Johnson passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his loving family on May 7, 2022 after a long illness. A celebration of life will be held at 3:00 PM, Saturday, May 21, 2022, at Adams Funeral Chapel in Charleston, Illinois. A memorial visitation will be from 1:00 PM until service time. Memorials in his honor may be made to St. Jude Children’s Hospital or Donors Choice and left at the visitation/service or mailed to Adams Funeral Chapel, 2330 Shawnee Drive, Charleston, IL 61920.
Jim was born on May 26, 1941, in Bristow, Oklahoma, the son of Kirby and Nelda Johnson. He is survived by his wife, Wanda; sons Kirby (Bridget), Brent (Ingrid) and Tyler Johnson; grandchildren Henry, Gavin, Korina and Dylan Johnson; brother David Johnson of Poplar Bluff, Missouri; and sister Karen Benton of Missouri. His brother Richard Johnson and his parents preceded him in death.
He graduated from Emporia State College in 1963. Two years earlier, he met Wanda Weber and the two married on May 30th, 1964. They both taught high school until Jim was drafted into the Army in 1966. After completing his service, he attended the University of Kansas where he obtained a MFA degree in 1969. In 1970 he joined the faculty of Arkansas State University as a Professor of Sculpture. He came to Eastern Illinois in 1978 as chair of the Art Department.
It would be difficult to overemphasize the impact Jim has had on the lives of Eastern students, faculty, staff, and off-campus community. An already established artist of considerable note when he came to EIU in 1978 as chair of the Art Department, he led its faculty for sixteen years to a new level of excellence and national prominence. In 1993 Jim was named dean of the College of Arts &Humanities, a completely new college formed from the six humanities departments of the former College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the three departments of the former College of Fine Arts. Under Jim's guidance the transition to the new college proved seamless and utterly successful.
In addition, Jim had seen to realization several significant building projects at Eastern: the Tarble Arts Center, the Burl Ives Studio house and, most significantly, the Doudna Fine Arts Center. His many contributions to the cultural life of not only Charleston and Coles County but also central Illinois resulted in his receiving The Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award in 2006, a biennial award from the Illinois Humanities Council bestowed on individuals "who carry the torch of the humanities.”
Throughout his impressive career, Jim continued to pursue his passion for artistic expression. Not only was he accomplished at glass blowing and bronze casting, but also, he was a nationally recognized sculptor. His large-scale public sculptures have been displayed in several states, including those which still stand today in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois and Colorado. One only needs to visit his website: jameskjohnson.com to gain insight into this remarkably creative man.
Yet these accomplishments don’t really capture the essence of the man who was so beloved by all. Jim was that rare individual utterly without ego in his desire to do for others. Despite Jim’s many significant accomplishments he projected a modesty about his talents and accomplishments as sincere as it was disarming. He was the very model of the servant leader.