Inspiring the Next Generation

A legacy of Giving at Weber State University

Ralph Johnson BA ’72 knew it wasn’t his best work. So he encased the assignment in a fancy folder. His political science professor, Jean Bickmore White, was not impressed.

“Dr. White, who had been the editor of professional publications and had served on important state government commissions, was not impressed with the folder or its contents,” Ralph said during his 2011 commencement ceremony speech for Weber State University’s College of Social & Behavioral Sciences. “She told me that I had earned only an ‘average grade.’ I still can’t bring myself to say ‘C.’”

White didn’t stop there.

“She told me that I might have earned a better grade if I had convinced her that I genuinely cared about the problem, that I had mastered the facts, and that I had applied every bit of skill, reasoning, creativity and passion that were mine,” Ralph said.  

And that stuck with him.

Ralph, who went on to become a successful lawyer, believes his decision to apply White’s standards to his schoolwork has been indispensable professionally.

Howard M. Johnson

After graduating in 1972 from then-Weber State College, Johnson attended the University of Utah College of Law, graduating in 1975. Professionally, he worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Utah, then moved to Washington, D.C., to become senior trial attorney and assistant director in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Johnson was named one of the top attorneys in Washington by two separate magazines and was given multiple commendations for his work by the attorney general.

Today, he still attributes many of his successes to White, but there was also another person in his life who inspired him — his father, Howard M. Johnson.

A Tribute to His Father

Howard was hired as a vocational education instructor in 1955 at then-Weber College. After realizing that many of his students lived in rural parts of northern Utah, Howard began teaching students to weld and use other equipment on their own farms where his instruction would have the greatest practical value. He often would leave his tools with students, allowing them to practice what he had taught them.

Howard’s students flourished, and he eventually became an associate professor of engineering and director of vocational and technical education. Howard and his wife, Thera C. Johnson, who was a teacher, counselor and administrator for the Weber School District, inspired their children — all of whom are Weber State graduates — to become mentors and educators.

In addition to his successful law career, Ralph was a visiting law professor at Karoli Gaspar University in Hungary. His sister, Susan Johnson Okroy, works as a literacy specialist and early childhood specialist for the Utah State Board of Education. His sister, Linda Johnson Marriott, the youngest of the siblings, is the instructional coach for South Elementary School in Cedar City, Utah.

Ralph enjoyed his stint as a professor. “It allowed me to do for others what Professor White and my mother and father had done, and what my sisters continue to do — inspire a new generation,” he said. He even used White’s tactics. “As I read my students’ personal evaluations of my course, they uniformly expressed gratification that I had challenged them as they had never been challenged before. One of my Hungarian students described Dr. White’s methodology as liberating.”

Ralph, Sue and Linda recently donated a generous planned gift to WSU that will create the Howard M. Johnson Mentoring Award in memory of their father. The award will recognize deserving faculty who go above and beyond the classroom to teach, mentor, inspire and challenge students to achieve their potential. These contributions will recognize future educators in the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences who help students achieve their dreams.

“This place is where teachers have consecrated their lives to showing students how to find solutions where it seemed none were to be found,” Ralph said. “Any professional success that I have experienced began here at Weber State.”

Frank Harrold, dean of the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, appreciates the support of alumni.

"We are grateful to Ralph, Sue and Linda for enabling us to recognize those faculty members who give so generously of themselves to guide and inspire students, just as Dr. White did for Ralph and many other students," Harrold said.

If you are interested in making a legacy gift visit WSU’s Development Office website.