When former Hillsdale professor Charles “Chuck” Johnson poured cat food into the bowls lined up on his front porch, he always waved to his neighbors as they strolled by his E. Fayette Street home on warm evenings. After living a life full of love for felines and humans alike, he died at 87 years old on Monday at the MacRitchie North Skilled Nursing Facility in the Hillsdale Hospital. Johnson is survived by his wife, Madelyn, and two daughters. He was preceded in death by his son, Steven Johnson, who died in 2004.
“He was kind-hearted and never said anything bad about anyone,” said Academy Headmaster Kenneth Calvert, one of the Johnson’s neighbors. “He was a sweet, beautiful man. He loved the Lord and was just so kind.”
Madelyn Johnson currently is hospitalized at the ProMedica Coldwater Regional Hospital and is in touch with her family. She could not be reached for comment.
Johnson started his career at the college in 1988, but he already had begun making an impact in Hillsdale two years earlier when College Baptist Church hired Johnson and his wife to co-pastor the congregation in 1986. At the college, Johnson served as a lecturer of sociology and a counselor to students, faculty, and staff. He and his wife also team-taught a course about love, marriage, and family, which many students still enrolled here recalled fondly.
As a pastor, Johnson is said to have spoken from the pulpit as personably and effectively as he had talked with his congregants, clients, and pupils.
“He was a great preacher who always, always made sure the gospel was clear,” Calvert said. “That always impressed me.”
Calvert, who witnessed Johnson preach many times, recalled how Johnsons often shared the task of writing and giving a sermon. Jokingly, the two called this technique a “ping-pong sermon.” One would begin to preach, and soon the other would chime in. On they would go until they reached their conclusion.
“Some people would think that crazy, but it actually worked quite well,” Calvert said.
Johnson did not only shepherd his own congregation, however.
Chuck and Madelyn Johnson founded a counseling service they ran in their home called named Storm’s Eye Ministry, which sought to grant peace and solace to pastors in crisis.
“Pastors could quietly stay at the Johnson’s home and get some encouragement,” said Assistant Professor of Religion Don Westblade, a friend of Chuck Johnson’s. “I think Chuck and Madelyn really had their hearts in this counseling and service kind of ministry.”
Westblade knew the Johnson family since he pulled into his first home in Hillsdale when he joined the college’s religion department in 1988. Johnson was the first one to greet him, helping him unload his truck. Living down the street from Johnson for several years, Westblade said the Johnsons enjoyed living so close to the college: “They lived just a block away so they could stay involved with college activities.”
Dwelling among so many college kids could take its toll, but Johnson never shied from protecting his neighbors from rowdy partiers when it got too late to put up with loud shenanigans.
“‘We love Hillsdale College students until midnight. After midnight, we love the Hillsdale police department,’” Calvert recalled Johnson saying frequently. “That was something he practiced pretty consistently.”
Senior Spanish major Alexis Pierce took Chuck and Madelyn Johnson’s class on love, marriage, and family in fall 2016. Now engaged to junior Joel Pietila, Pierce counted the class among her favorite courses she has taken at Hillsdale and said its lessons have proved invaluable.
“I almost feel like I have a leg up in my marriage. I have some tools to go into it. I know that there are phases, there are stages of marriage. There are also challenges, but there are also really beautiful things that come with each and every stage,” Pierce said. “That was really cool to see played out in their relationship. They cultivated a friendship that they had and that was really powerful. They were very much in love.”
When Hillsdale’s Social Media Coordinator Gianna Marchese ‘17 was still a student at Hillsdale, she took the Johnson’s class the same semester as Pierce.
“Each of their lessons were accentuated by the fact that it was a husband and wife teaching the class who had gone to school together and had gotten their doctorates together and had gone through that whole journey,” Marchese said. “You weren’t learning how to love through a textbook. You saw it right in front of you.”
College Baptist Church will hold a memorial service for Chuck Johnson on Monday, Feb. 26, at 11 a.m.
“Chuck left a very positive impact on the college, on Hillsdale as a community, and on our neighborhood,” Calvert said. “We’ll miss him.”