Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Wayne Allen Johnson
(Eulogy given at March 2, 2013 Funeral Service, La Porte, Indiana, by Allen Johnson)

Genesis 25:8 “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.”

Let me borrow from this scripture theme. “Wayne Allen Johnson breathed his last on February 12 and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and now is gathered to his people.”

For many of us gathering him today, Wayne Johnson is a friend. For others…. an uncle, a grandparent or great-grandparent. For some of us, including me…my daddy. And for one, and only one unique, special person…a husband.

How does one summarize 90 years of dad’s well-lived life? How does one fathom his legacy? How does one project his influence far into the future, even to lives yet to be born? One can only try…inadequately, but with deep respect, gratitude, and love. I pray that this my honor to say some words during this time will resonate with each one of you who has your own words deep in your own hearts.  Dad was special to all of us in common, but he was also uniquely special to each of us as individuals, too.

In my earliest memories of my daddy, he was still in his 20’s. Maybe every kid thinks his daddy is the strongest man in the world. I certainly thought that of my dad. One early memory, often repeated, is semi-waking up from a night car ride, dad carrying me from the car into the house to put me to bed…a secure feeling. And dad always made us kids feel secure as we were growing up. After all, dad could figure out anything, could fix anything, and would put in the long long hours to do so. Often, especially in those earlier years, finances were tight. As the saying goes, “life happens,” and sometimes life happening has difficult obstacles that test the mettle and versatility of a person. In his younger years dad tried farming on several occasions. Dad liked farming, knew farming from his boyhood, yet circumstances beyond his control thrust him on other paths. And later, dad’s job as a professor at Tri-State College in Angola, Indiana ended because of a huge downturn in student enrollment. For a year, dad commuted from Angola to La Porte where he had landed a high school teaching job. When the college situation did not rebound, our family moved to La Porte and started over again. That was 52 years ago. La Porte stuck.

To talk about dad is to also talk about mom.  Most of us have heard stories countless times about how dad and mom met in a cow barn. Mom, we never get tired of hearing the story again. After all, everyone loves a “love story” no matter how often it is repeated. Yes, dad was testing dairy herds in Maryland. My mom would come home from her teaching job to help her own father with the evening milking. On the suggestion of her mother, mom invited the new milk tester to a church social that evening. Dad, seizing the opportunity, asked mom to a Laurel and Hardy movie the following night. Smart move, taking her to a comedy where dad’s radiant, million dollar smile would be on full display.

A few days ago my sisters uncovered a journal that dad had daily kept in the weeks leading up to their wedding February 23,, 1946.  Marilyn gave the journal to mom on what would have been their 67th anniversary last Saturday. She had never known about the journal, and was thrilled. In amongst the notes about his dairy testing work were his eager thoughts in anticipation of their marriage.

Dad was a romantic. He loved his wife, and showed that love often with special affection, once again, a trait that gave us children deep security. Some of my most treasured childhood memories are car rides at night, such as coming home from a visit with one of dad’s brothers. Maybe my younger sisters were sleeping. I’d be gazing out the window at the moon and the night shadows. Then dad and mom would start singing together. Maybe a favorite hymn like “Little Brown Church in the Wildwood,” or maybe something silly like “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah, fee, fi, fiddly I oh.” Or something about a gal named Daisy and a bicycle built for two. My favorite, especially if the moon was full and bright, was [Sing] “I see the moon, the moon sees me, way up yonder in the old oak tree, please let the light that shines on me, shines on the one I love.” Dad was always a romancer, a lover to mom. At their 65th anniversary, even though his abilities were but a shadow of his past, he still sang with gusto to mom, [Sing] “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy, when skies are gray, You'll never know dear how much I love you please don't take my sunshine away.” Then of course, they quite shamelessly kissed and hugged each other. I video-recorded that song, and showed it to dad and mom at Christmas time just over two months ago. By then, dad’s faculties were very dim. Yet he perked up at the song, and I watched him silently mouth the words to the song…and I knew his thoughts were on mom…his sunshine!

Let me share a miracle story, one that some of us here have heard about, and a few have witnessed. Several years ago dad had a routine medical checkup scheduled. Their granddaughter, Sarah, at the time a nursing student in Indianapolis, happened to be visiting in La Porte and offered to drive them to the appointment. Sarah and dad were in the front seats of their van, mom in the back. When Sarah looked over her shoulder to back out of the driveway, she noticed mom slumped over unconscious. Sarah immediately called 911 and then applied resuscitation to mom, who soon after was rushed to the hospital. For many hours she lay there unconscious. All of us family members were notified that the prognosis was grim. At one point dad came along with some of the family to visit mom, comatose on the bed hooked up to oxygen and assorted tubing.  Dad walked over to her bedside, and in the authoritative tone we all know so well, said to her, “Connie, wake up. It’s time to wake up now. Wake up!” (One thinks of Jesus calling Lazarus forth from the tomb) And in this “Lazarus, come forth moment,” mom did stir, and opened her eyes. It took several weeks for mom to recover enough to walk. A pacemaker was placed for her heart. Now, several years later, we see the Hand of God working in dad and mom. That our mom did not die but is living has been an extraordinary blessing of assistance and loving support for dad during the decline of his health.

I’m not going to take this precious time to talk about dad’s professional and civic accomplishments, although they were significant and noteworthy of long, praiseful commentary. Just to say, dad was an accomplished teacher, homebuilder, and pilot. As well as most of my siblings, I had dad for high school physics and excelled in his class…not only because dad was a skillful and motivational teacher, but also, dad was a stern disciplinarian who would have quickly called me to task if I had slacked off on my homework. Although dad eventually left his teaching career in order to devote his full energies to his burgeoning home and apartment building enterprise, his heart remained in education, spurring him to serve twelve years on the La Porte school board. Anyone who worked with dad on construction, as I and a number of you in attendance have done, can attest to his wide array of skills, his extraordinary stamina, and his amazing efficiency. If there was a task to be done, dad would study it, learn it, and master it. Dad had a keen, fearless sense of balance, too, that sometimes frightened me as I would watch him nonchalantly walking across high-up rafter ridge poles and the like carrying boards. Dad simply enjoyed learning challenging new skills and putting them to use. And not only to earn a living, but to give away in helping others. I recall many visits to Maryland and elsewhere in which dad would install a garage door opener or do some plumbing for a relative. Dad helped all us grown kids with our home building projects, and volunteered numerous times with Wycliffe Missions in construction projects. Dad’s financial situation became secure as he got older, but instead of settling in to a self-indulgent retirement, he gave his considerable talent to help others. Dad often said that an educated person is one who can earn a living with his hands and a living with his mind. Dad excelled at both, and not only in earning a living, but in fixing, repairing, improvising, and improving. My wife Debbie always looked forward to dad’s visit. He usually carried around a miniature tool kit, and over the several days of his visit, door knob screws would get tightened, leaky faucets would stop leaking, and squeaky doors would be silenced. Debbie would question why I hadn’t inherited dad’s propensity to fix things. Well, I did inherit his, uh, handwriting, and not my mom’s exquisite hand.

It is befitting to remember the joys. But life is tested upon the excruciating volcanic fires of suffering and pain. When Jerry, my older brother, and dad’s and mom’s first born, was killed in a tragic accident 50 years ago, the world caved in on our family. Yet by the grace of God, the support of a loving extended family and community, and the sheer desire to get up and step forward, dad and mom held strong for one another and for our family. With a hole forever in our hearts, life resumed and family joy rekindled, for great love always overcomes, indeed love is the only thing that overcomes.

I have a few memories I want to touch on before I close. Dad took delight in us kids. As tots he liked to toss us in the air, or lay on his back and have us stand on his hands. He absolutely adored listening to my four sisters sing their quartets with mom playing the piano. And I remember dad taking Monte as just a boy up in plane rides and letting him take a whirl with the steering controls. (wonder why Monte is a pilot?) Dad took bragging pride in his ability to summon all of us kids a runnin’ in a whistle’s moment. Yes, I said whistle, for dad would pierce the air literally, no exaggeration, for city blocks with his shrieking whistle, and hearing that whistle meant we better be homeward bound immediately. I honestly have never heard a louder whistle in my life. Myself, I certainly did not inherit even a semblance of dad’s whistle skills. And on that note of whistling, in dad’s last years at Brentwood, he always seemed to be whistling one melody or another. Earlier I mentioned dad’s remarkable, radiant, light-up-the-room smile. Dad also had marvelous hands to look at. Hands that knew how to caress a child, hands that knew how to, uh, correct an errant son. Hands that knew hard farm labor, that knew the blow of a missed hammer swing, that knew the bitter cold of thawing frozen pipes, strong hands, tender hands, hands that revealed character and integrity, hands that hewed the life his adventurous, inquisitive mind set out to explore and do.

None of us children were rebellious to our parents. We respected the values they instilled in us, because they were values with integrity, values that were not just, “do as we say,” but rather, “do as we do.” Yes, each of us set out on our own pathways, for they also instilled in each of us a confidence to apply our own inclinations to life. Dad had courage of conviction, and lived and acted upon his convictions. Peer pressure did not deter him from taking a unconventional course. He had an independent streak of thought. But not rash thought, rather thought worked out and tested and considered.  And appreciated, for as many of you know, dad offered, but did not impose, his wise and helpful counsel to many students, friends, and family members over the years. Even now, and I believe to the end of my years, I will hear over my mind’s shoulder, dad’s voice as I face one situation or another. “Would dad be proud of me?” Or…”What would dad advise me to do?”

Influenced by dad’s and mom’s prayers and nurturing, my siblings and I came to faith in Jesus. Because of the character of my dad, I could more readily conceive God as Father, as intimate Abba, Pappa, who loves me, who disciplines me in love, who nurtures me to maturity, who finally only wants me to express my gratitude by passing love on to others.

The last time I saw dad was at Christmas time two months ago. I spent a morning with dad and mom in their small apartment at Brentwood, showing photos on my laptop computer and just being together. By that time, dad’s ability to hold conversation was intermittent and weak, often just a couple of words here and there. Yet it was a good visit. He enjoyed seeing the photos and remarked upon some of them. As I got up to leave, I turned to dad and said, “Dad, I love you.” And in return he spoke to me, the last words I was ever to hear from him, words spoken softly, in a rasping, weak tone, but clear and heart-felt…precious words.  “I love you, too.”

These are words dad would say to every one of you gathered today to commemorate and celebrate the life of Wayne Johnson, and to express our love for him.  His words in appreciation would be, “I love you, too.

I’ve spoken some of the life of Wayne Johnson. His legacy? Well, that’s up to each of us here in this room, and to those who cannot be with us today but in spirit. Each of us is influenced by the people we deal with and the situations that life thrusts upon us. But of this I am absolutely certain. Wayne Johnson’s legacy will reverberate in good ways for generations to come.  Good fruits of blessing will be borne. And the Eternal God who holds Wayne Johnson in His eternal embrace, will know.

Thank you.

 

 

Allen and Dad at 65th Anniversary

Allen with his father, Wayne Johnson, at his 65th anniversary in LaPorte, Indiana

Dad and Mom at 65th

Mom and Dad at 65th anniversary 2011.

Johnson Clan

Johnson gathering in 2012

Dad and Mom 35  years ago

Dad and Mom around 1980

Christmas in 70's

Christmas in the 1970's

Carpenter

Dad built not only solid houses but also a solid family.

Siblings

Elden, Wayne, Evelyn, Daryl at a celebration of Daryl and Elaine's 50th. Vernon, Frank, and Lowell were deceased.

2005

Taken in 2005 at wedding of Charity and Nathan.

First Grandchild

First grandchild, Jesse Johnson, born on grandparents' 30th anniversary February 23, 1976.

Graduation

...and 18 years later. Dad and mom have always encouraged their grandchildren.

Building Help

Dad offered his considerable building skills for all his grown children, and for many other people as well.

Click here for a YouTube video of dad singing to mom on their 65th anniversary, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart, I'm in Love withYou."