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Johnson’s legacy to live on

Senior engineering student Benjamin Prude hopes his life will be an extension of Dr. Kenneth Johnson’s. “I hope we can continue to carry the torch that he brought,” Prude said, reflecting on Johnson’s impact on his life. “I admired his godly character, professional demeanor and the example he was of someone who used their gifts for the greater good. If I become half the man he was, I will consider my life well-lived.”

Dr. Ken Johnson was the chair of Olivet’s engineering department and played a pivotal role in the expansion of the program. He passed away on Nov. 2 last semester. Photo by Thalyta Swanepoel.

Dr. Ken Johnson co-led a group of Olivet students doing missions work in Swaziland in May 2013. The photo was taken at Southern Africa Nazarene University in Stiteki, Swaziland. Photo by Thalyta Swanepoel.


By Nicole Lafond

Senior engineering student Benjamin Prude hopes his life will be an extension of Dr. Kenneth Johnson’s.

“I hope we can continue to carry the torch that he brought,” Prude said, reflecting on Johnson’s impact on his life. “I admired his godly character, professional demeanor and the example he was of someone who used their gifts for the greater good. If I become half the man he was, I will consider my life well-lived.”

And Prude is not alone.

“Many engineering students have expressed to me that they hope their lives will be an extension of his,” university Chaplain Mark Holcomb said.

Like Prude, students in the engineering department are stricken by their professor’s sudden passing, but the Godly life he lived has brought peace to many, according to senior Michael Durazo.

Johnson poses in front of his childhood home in Manzini, Swaziland. Photo by Thalyta Swanepoel.

Johnson poses in front of his childhood home in Manzini, Swaziland. Photo by Thalyta Swanepoel.

“I am so glad that I was able to meet such a great man of God. With the sadness that surrounds his passing, a peace covers me because I know that he is resting in Heaven,” Durazo said. “It is this thought that is helping me through these rough times.”

Johnson was the chair of Olivet’s engineering department from July of 2012 until his passing on Saturday Nov. 2. He passed away following an apparent heart attack, while competing in a bicycle race in northern Mich., according to an email sent to Olivet engineering students announcing his death. He is survived by his wife Jennifer and four children: Sydney, Erick, Luke and Bethany.

A prayer service was held Sunday afternoon in Kelley Prayer Chapel for engineering students. About 100 students attended the service, according to Vice President of Student Development, Woody Webb.

The visitation was held Nov. 7 at Schreffler Life Story Funeral Homes in Kankakee, Ill. from 4:00p.m. to 9:00p.m. A second viewing was held at College Church University Campus this morning from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The funeral took place directly afterwards.

During his short time teaching on campus, less than three semesters, Johnson made an obvious impact and his death has left many mourning, according to University President Dr. John Bowling. “Dr. Johnson’s life demonstrates what a difference one individual can make. He was not with us long – but his contribution to Olivet was very significant,” Bowling said. “He leaves a lasting legacy. Olivet will seek to honor his memory by fully supporting the development of a premier undergraduate engineering program, which was part of Dr. Johnson’s dream.”

Johnson led the engineering department through its largest growth to date. In the past 25 years about 220 students have graduated with a degree in engineering from Olivet. Currently, there are 150 students in the department and 73 students enrolled in the Freshman Design course, according to the office of the registrar.

Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dennis Crocker believes Johnson accomplished more here in his short time of service than anyone he has ever known.

“I remember early conversations I had with Ken in the interview process. I came away from those conversations feeling [like] ‘Wow, this guy is the real deal,’” Crocker said. “I find that I want to be like Ken in his transparent and enthusiastic commitment to God. None of us will ever be the same.”

Johnson brought innovative engineering technology to the classroom. He gave his students a practical classroom experience while paving the way for advancements in the 3D-printing world. Johnson was the project manager for the engineering department’s 3D-printing project with Nexus LCM, a leading developer of advanced 3D printing solutions, according to an Olivet press release from Aug. 1.

The real world engineering experience that Johnson brought to the table was incredibly valuable to students.

3) Students in several science classes write notes of encouragement and sympathy to the Johnson family. Photo by Bekah Colbert.

3) Students in several science classes write notes of encouragement and sympathy to the Johnson family. Photo by Bekah Colbert.

“He sacrificed it all to try and rejuvenate his Alma Mater’s program. He had such an impact on the physical aspects of the department, but further more, on the students themselves,” senior engineering student, Taylor Westrate, said.

One of the “physical aspects” in which Johnson played a key developmental role in was opened today. Following Johnson’s funeral, the engineering department’s new Tech Center was opened for the first time. It will be named after Johnson, Bowling said.

“Dr. Johnson was a high impact individual who loved students, loved people, and loved his family. In his brief time at Olivet, he had already established himself as a giver,” Webb said. “He cared deeply for the well-being of each and every student under his instruction and understood that such an investment went far beyond the classroom.”

Johnson demonstrated his “giving” spirit in the classroom and around the world. This past spring he co-led a group of students to Swaziland, his childhood home. While there, the group installed a water irrigation system which helped improve the quality of life for a community devastated by HIV/AIDS.

“Ken was full of drive and contagious enthusiasm to creatively harness engineering to meet real world problems and better the lives of real people whom he came to consider family,” Jennifer McClellan, Director of Missions and Student Ministries and one of the co-leaders of the Swaziland trip, said. “I witnessed Ken as he invested personally in his students. Our Swazi team affectionately called him Ba’-be, meaning father in Siswati.”

During this time of grieving, the Olivet community must come together and give one another strength, according to Holcomb.

“Words are cheap during a time like this, we must cling to our relationships. We must share stories, laugh together, and continue to grieve,” Holcomb said. “Talking about our times with Dr. Johnson helps keep his story alive.”

1 Comment on Johnson’s legacy to live on

  1. What a beautiful tribute to a man all of us will miss! Thanks for your beautiful work on this, Nicole.

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