We’re sorry to have to report that Dr. Bill Johnson, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, died on Thursday, three days after his 84th birthday, of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.

Bill graduated from Wheaton College in 1959, then returned to his home state of California for graduate school, earning a master’s from the University of California-Berkeley and his doctorate at Claremont Graduate School. After teaching briefly at Northern Illinois University, Bill joined the Bethel faculty in 1969 and served in the Political Science department until his retirement in 2007. In addition to teaching courses on topics like American government, public administration, urban politics, future studies, and public leadership, Bill served on the faculty committee that revamped Bethel’s general education curriculum in the mid-1980s, a revision that introduced still-familiar courses like Christianity and Western Culture and categories like Science, Technology, and Society.

The 2000 winner of Bethel’s Faculty Excellence Award in Scholarship, Bill also published several books and articles, including a textbook on public administration (its 5th edition came out in 2014) and this 1998 report on the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council. From early in his time in Minnesota, Bill was also active in local nonpartisan organizations like the Citizens League and served on the planning commissions for Shoreview and Lino Lakes. (Click here to listen to him in 1978, telling a Minnesota Public Radio interviewer about his research into state and local tax policy.)

For all work at Bethel and in the Twin Cities, Bill’s obituary adds that his “inherent curiosity also materialized in his love for traveling. Throughout his life, he visited dozens of countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa with his wife and family. His most recent trips, in 2017, took him to Colombia, the Galapagos Islands, and Peru.”

Bill will be laid to rest alongside his wife, AnnMae, who died in 2017. Visitation will take place Saturday, December 11th, 11am-1pm, at Benson Funeral Home in Worthington, Minnesota. See his obituary for full details.

Peace be to the memory of Bill Johnson.

Bill as he appeared in a Nov. 1978 Clarion article about his work with the Citizens League – Bethel University Digital Library

Please feel free to share your favorite memories of Bill in the comments section. We’ll get things started below with some remarks from his longtime colleague, John Lawyer, and former student Terilyn Johnston Huntington ’04, now a political science professor herself.

Bill’s specialty at Bethel was urban politics.  One of the things that most struck me about him was the way he combined teaching and practice, serving on the Shoreview Planning Commission while teaching his courses on local government. Both sides of the equation were the richer for it. He wrote the authoritative study of the Twin Cities Metro Council, a unique governmental body nation-wide because it has to serve the not easily harmonized area-wide needs of two major cities, not just one. He also wrote a widely-adopted textbook on urban politics. When discussing politics in general with colleagues in the Department he would often remark that if you really wanted to see blood on the floor don’t look for a food-fight in Congress or a bad turn in U.S.-Soviet tensions, go to a local zoning commission when a new development is under discussion.

Bill was widely esteemed by students and colleagues, and will be missed.

Dr. John Lawyer, Professor Emeritus of Political Science
Some of Bill’s courses, as described in the 1985-1986 Catalog – Bethel University Digital Library

Dr. Johnson was regarded as a difficult grader. He had high standards and expected students to work diligently in his classes. Our senior year at Bethel my classmate Joshua Peffley and I took Dr. Johnson’s “Western Democracies” class. The final project for this class was a co-authored paper with a classmate on a country with a democratic government that we hadn’t covered in class. Being products of the Cold War, Josh and I decided to write our paper on the less-than-a-decade-old Polish democracy. We decided that we were going to write the best paper ever. So, we researched for weeks and even checked out books from the University of Minnesota library. Josh and I pulled an all-nighter finishing and fine-tuning this paper. We turned it in. We both got As in the class, but didn’t know how we did on the paper until it was returned in Josh’s mailbox the next semester. We scored a 99/100. I was elated. Josh was disappointed because of that one lost point that was deducted from the paper’s introduction. Josh had written the introduction and believed that it was his fault that we hadn’t gotten a perfect score. I suspected, however, that Dr. Johnson didn’t have it in him to give a perfect score on a paper.

While Josh and I were already predisposed to be high achievers, Dr. Johnson’s class pushed us to work harder and to learn about new places and concepts of democracy. He encouraged us to write well and to carefully craft thoroughly-researched argumentation, to pay attention to gender neutrality and citations as we wrote. The research and writing that I did in Dr. Johnson’s classes was instrumental in preparing me to do graduate level academic work.

Both Josh and I have MAs from the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. He works for the Department of State in posts all over the world. I’m a political science professor teaching students in much the same way that Dr. Johnson did, challenging them to achieve more than they believed they could and holding them to high research and writing standards. This is just a small piece of Dr. Johnson’s legacy. I think he’d be delighted and humbled to know how his instruction guided the two undergraduates in this anecdote to explore the world and to train up future political scientists.

Dr. Terilyn Johnston Huntington ’04

One thought on “Bill Johnson (1937-2021)

  1. I’m sorry to hear this. May his memory be eternal! He was a good man and a good professor. I remember on class he had us writing “micro-papers.” They could be no more than one page, he rather dramatically said, if you hand in two pages, I’ll just tear off the second and throw it out. But his interest in Public Admin and the Met Council were inspiring.

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