Donald Johnson was the first principal of Wheaton North High School before beginning a long career as assistant principal at Leyden Township School District 212 in Cook County.
“He was in the middle of everything that was going on in Leyden and did a great job doing it,” said Jim Macintyre, retired District 212 deputy director.
Johnson, 93, died of natural causes Dec. 21 at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, his son David said. He was a long-time resident of Wheaton.
Johnson grew up in the small Kane County communities of Plato Center and Big Rock before moving with his family to the northwestern Illinois town of Dakota, where he attended high school. His father was a school administrator.
He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then served in the Air Force for four years, according to his family. Johnson later returned to the United States for a master’s degree and earned a doctorate in school administration from Indiana University in 1963.
After teaching math at Niles West High School, Johnson was promoted to assistant principal of freshmen at the Skokie school.
In 1963, Johnson began working at Wheaton Community High School as part of his plan to become principal when Wheaton North opened its doors the following year. Johnson quipped to the Tribune in 1964, the year before he became Wheaton North’s principal, that he was “a man without a school, even without faculty and students.”
Despite this, Johnson formed ties with students at Wheaton Community High School, which changed its name to Wheaton Central in 1964 after the opening of Wheaton North.
“He communicated easily with the students,” recalled Joe Tate, a retired Wheaton Central and Wheaton Warrenville South High School math teacher who studied with Johnson at Wheaton Community high school in 1963-1964 and remained friends with him. “He had a great sense of humor and was very friendly and helpful.”
Wheaton North opened with more than 500 freshmen and sophomores and added a class each year over the next two years. Johnson told the Tribune in August 1964 that he was excited about the school’s communicative arts wing, which was the academic centerpiece of the building. He also noted that the student library was unusually large for a school of this size, with a capacity of 1,200 at the time.
In 1968, Johnson was hired to become principal of Princeton High School in Sharonville, Ohio, outside Cincinnati. He returned to Illinois in 1974 and took a job as assistant principal at Leyden Community High School Dist. 212 operates East Leyden High School in Franklin Park and West Leyden High School in Northlake. For the next 19 years, Johnson worked alongside then-Supt. Along with David Byrne and then Byrne’s successor, Jack Schoenholtz.
Johnson’s sister, Marilyn Stuckey, said her brother enjoyed his job as a school administrator.
“I think he grew up with it and knew it was something he could do well in, and he also thought education was important and he could do a good job,” she said.
In addition to golf and travel, Tate said Johnson is also active in the Suburban Chicago Apple Users group, which brings together iPhone, iPad and Mac enthusiasts.
Johnson’s wife, Mary, also taught at Niles West, where the couple met. She died in 2013. In addition to his son and sister, Johnson is survived by two other sons, Eric and Mark; and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 17, at 2 p.m., in the chapel of the First Presbyterian Church of Glen Ellyn, 550 N. Main Street, Glen Ellyn.
Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.