Allen G. Johnston
12/22/44 ~ 9/9/20
Al Johnston, 75, a social studies teacher in the Shoreline School District from 1972 through January, 2000, died recently from complications of ALS.
Al spent his happy and formative youth in small-town, ID, where he and his 3 siblings lived with their parents in a small house with 3 bedrooms and one bathroom. Living in a family with just enough but not extra money, sharing a small bedroom with his 2 older brothers for multiple years, and using trundle beds taught him much about patience and being happy with what you’ve got. His family’s half-acre grass backyard and lighted concrete patio drew neighborhood kids for baseball and football, but mainly basketball; untold hours were spent shootin’ hoops in the back! He was active in scouting (but never made Eagle!), little league baseball (where he was always afraid of fast balls!), and Boys Club basketball. He traveled to Seattle with Boys Club all-star teams in the 7th and 8th grades, an eye opener to him in many ways! Al began playing the trombone in the 4th grade. In high school he was active in both the band, where he played the baritone, and the orchestra. He was involved in student government, worked hard to get good grades, ran the mile in track, (and later wondered how good he might have been at that if he’d actually trained!), and played on basketball teams that twice made it to the state tournament. He graduated in 1963.
Fortunately, through family connections during those years, a privilege he would always appreciate and be thankful for, he was able to get good summer jobs in the woods of northern Idaho: one summer cutting brush and fighting a few small forest fires with the PTPA and then five summers, including a few college years, as a scaler with PFI . Those jobs helped him pay for college and taught him that a formal education can be a good thing but that the less formally “blue collar“ guys working skilled and long hard hours every day were no less important in the big picture of overall contributions to society.
At the suggestion of a family friend, Al applied to a small private college in southern CA, and was accepted. Little did he know then that that was the most important decision he would make in his life because that is where, a few years later, he would meet his eventual wife and life partner of over 50 years . Having never been to CA before, and having no idea even where the college was exactly, he arrived at the Los Angeles Bus Depot one early morning with 2 suitcases, a box of stuff, and a typewriter, nervous but with high hopes! A kindly passer-by watched his belongings while he learned that he couldn’t afford a taxi ride to the campus, and then explained how he could get a cheap bus. Another person on the bus helped him carry everything to his new dorm... small town Idaho boy off to a new start in the big city of LA with the help and kindness of strangers!
During his 4 years there, a school of about 1400 students, Al made great friends, played basketball for 3 years, was a mediocre student, and majored in Political Science with a minor in U.S. History. He spent 2 summers delivering beer in Oceanside, again a great job through connections, and worked as a high school bus driver during his senior year, a pivotal job, as it turned out: he liked being around high school kids! And in his junior year he met Nancy and they have been together ever since!
After graduation, Al moved to Seattle to attend grad school in Political Science at the UW where he discovered that he didn’t really like the college teaching preparation world as much as he had hoped. Also, his one year graduate school draft deferment was up in June 1968, ironically the same month he and Nancy were married in a chapel in their favorite national park, and he was declared 1A, draftable ASAP.
He reported for 2 months of Basic Training and decided his chances of winding up being in the infantry and going to Viet Nam were high, so he enlisted for a 3rd year to avoid the infantry. Ironically, an Army plane-scheduling SNAFU caused him to arrive late to his 2 month advanced training program in VA, and as a result, his class fortunately all went to Korea, the only one of 8 in a row that didn’t go to Viet Nam. Al had an interesting job in Korea working with competent people at a small Army medical supply group based in Seoul, so the fact that Nancy wasn’t with him was tolerable. After his year there, now a sergeant, he was assigned to Ft. Jackson, outside Columbia, South Carolina’s capital. He taught for a year in his specialty while Nancy taught 4th graders in a previously all-Black Columbia Public School elementary in its first year of court-ordered desegregation; their year in South Carolina was an eye-opener!
Following Al’s discharge, they returned to Seattle. His grad school and Army experiences had convinced him that his previous idea of trying to become a college prof was not a good one; he had decided to become a high school teacher instead. Luckily, again because of fortuitous happenstance with strangers, Al was able to enroll in and complete his two-quarter TEPFO student teaching assignment at Shoreline High School and was hired by the District the next fall. He taught 5 years at Morgan Junior High before it was closed due to declining enrollment. Then 5 years at Cordell Hull Middle School when it, too, was closed. Then 4 years at Shoreline High School until it closed! His remaining 14 years were at Shorecrest High School.
As a social studies teacher Al was able to teach a variety of classes over the years: US History to both 8th and 11th graders, world geography, Washington state history, and geography, government and economics. In all of those, Al’s hope was that he could help generate in his students an interest in paying attention to and becoming knowledgeable about current events, hopefully concluding that informed voting would be a good thing for them to choose to do. But his favorite class to teach was Social Psychology to which he was introduced at Shoreline High and taught each year thereafter. It was designed to urge kids to consider the choices they made in their lives and how they could become better decision-makers. “There are no have to’s in life, only choices!” “We each have all the time there is!” “Choices have consequences!” “It’s not what is that counts, it’s what people think, feel, and believe is that counts!“
During his long teaching career, Al followed the advice of others he respected who convinced him that teaching in a public school was not only about teaching kids in the classroom; there was more to it than that very important part. So he coached 7th, 8th, and 9th grade basketball for quite a few years, (his win and loss record was not very good but he was generally proud of what and how he did it), and a couple of years of middle school track and field, and tried over the years to be involved in co-curricular activities of all kinds. His favorite was the Morgan Hiking Club, and his most challenging was being co-advisor to the Black Student Union in its formative year at Shorecrest. He learned from and along with his students! And being co-class advisor for the Class of 87 at Shorecrest, which included lots of kids from Shoreline which had closed, was also a demanding task; he felt good about his role, along with others, in helping the kids generally make a good deal out of a tough situation.
He also felt he had a duty to his fellow teachers to help improve their situation and was an active member of the local teachers union serving as building rep and on various committees over many years. Additionally, Al spent a lot of time on staff committees, both in his building and district-wide, whose intent was to improve things at the schools with the filter-down result of helping kids get a better education. As frustrating as such meetings could be and were, he felt that overall much of his work was time and energy well spent in the long run. And working with his colleagues over all those years, both teachers and administrators, resulted in his being continually impressed with and amazed by the intellect, insight, and commitment of so many of them! It was great to be able to work with such high quality human beings in often difficult situations with tough problems to try to solve in that all important field of public education!
And, finally, Al felt that anything he could do to help individual students get through their days was a good use of his time. Not having any kids himself, he felt he had the extra time before, after, and even during school hours, to listen to kids if and when they might want a neutral adult ear. He tried not to give advice directly but rather tried to help kids sort through things by asking questions. He chatted with lots of kids over the years and generally felt good about the results
When Al and Nancy were not teaching, they were off on adventures with one of the 5 dogs they had over their years together: van and trailer camping with day hikes, backpacks, and some climbing ventures, both alone and with friends, in the Olympics, Cascades, Tetons, Wind Rivers, Beartooths, and Sierra! Highlights include a long day hike from Yosemite Valley to the top of Half Dome using the cables; climbing both the Grand Teton and Gannet Peaks in Wyoming; marveling up close at Luna Cirque and Mts. Redoubt and Spickard in the North Cascades; XC skiing in the Methow Valley but never making it down the Inside Passage without falling; spending a night by themselves in the Enchanted Valley Chalet in the Olympics; hiking to the top of Mount Jacques Cartier in Quebec and seeing a Caribou in the mist; bicycling when they could including on Prince Edward Island, along the Erie Canal, and in Yosemite; fun years doing 5 and 10 K runs in Seattle, Goldendale, Twisp, and Astoria, all topped of by the Beaver Lake Triathlons! Al’s highlight trip was driving the trailer throughout the US and much of Canada, logging over 30,000 miles and two replacement axels! It was the kind of trip most people just dream about, but fortunately he and Nancy were able to actually do it! Every day for a year was a new adventure!
Unfortunately in the summer of 2018, Al noticed core muscle weaknesses and some breathing issues. Six months of PT didn’t help and more tests resulted in his ALS diagnosis in February of 2019. At his first Kaiser ALS clinic, he was asked by the local ALS Association rep if he had ever served in the military. Little did he know at the time that his service in the Army would result in such a benefit for him and Nancy down the road. Long story short, he was declared 100% service-connected disabled by the VA, and therefore entitled to an amazing series of benefits, including wonderful people to help him and Nancy on their journey through the awfulness of ALS. Because of that, he was able to stay at home as his health deteriorated, and to find comfort and joy in the midst of it all, thanks to Nancy and the kindness and generosity of friends and neighbors! He was able to reflect on a life generally well lived, with strong family ties and good friends throughout, some of whom included former students.
He and Nancy would like to thank his VA ALS Clinic team, whose inter-personal and professional competence and commitment was a blessing beyond words! They took us by the hand and helped guide us through the unknowns of this terrible disease. In a perfect world, every family with ALS and similar diseases would somehow receive the same benefits! They would also like to thank their hospice team from Klein Galland whose gentle, calm and competent guidance and assistance was also a blessing.
And all of these folks did much of this during the Covid 19 pandemic... bless them!
Al is survived by Nancy; his brother Oz and wife Karla with kids and grandkids; his other brother Steve and wife Joan with kids and grandkids; his sister Melissa with kids and grandkids; and Nancy’s brother, Bob.
There will be no memorial services. If anyone might wish in some way to commemorate Al/Mr. J/AJ/Al J/Dr. J/Uncle Al/J Dog, he and Nance would like them to know that they have long supported both the Yosemite Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy and, more recently, the ALS Association. Or, simply follow the advice of an 8th grade U.S. history class from Morgan Junior High in the early 70’s as they developed their class rule for the year, which was used by Al the rest of his career: Always treat everyone, their rights, person, and property, with respect!
Rest In Peace, brother-in-law Al. We will miss you. Joan Johnston
Gurk was a one-of-a-kind cousin - full of mischief some of the time and occasionally showing a surprising compassion. I always looked forward to my time with him and the rest of the Johnston family.
My heart goes out to you. His was a life well-lived, and I'm so glad he found you to share it with. I wish you peace and healing and I wish there was more I could do for you.
So sorry to hear of Mr. Johnston’s passing.
He was one of my favorite teachers that I had at Shoreline High School when I attended in ‘82-‘86.
One of my best memories of him is of getting to spend some time outside of the classroom with him to bike from Bothell out to Marymoor park and back.
Mr Johnston (I will always call him that!) knew how to relate to and connect with his students more so than most teachers I had. I can’t say enough good things about him. So glad I was lucky enough to have him as a teacher.
AJ was a man and educator of deep passion, integrity, honor and compassion. Every day I had the honor of working with AJ I learned something about being a better teacher, but more importantly, a better human being. I watched in awe as he encouraged and influenced young minds to think and grow, as he challenged students to work hard while he inspired them to be the best versions of themselves.
One day at Shorecrest, two fellow teachers created: AL JOHNSTON DAY! Posters and pictures of AJ were placed EVERYWHERE around school, listing AJ'isms and quotes. AJ's "Day of Honor" ended up lasting an entire month. No one in the entire school wanted to take down the posters as it felt right to pay tribute to this well deserving, genuinely amazing person.
Thank you Nancy for sharing AJ with us. There will forever be an "Al Johnson Day" in the heart of so many of us.
Jennifer Eklund - teacher Shoreline HS 83-86, Shorecrest HS 86-94, forever fan.
Mr. Johnston was by far, one of my very favorite teachers at Shoreline (the ill fated class of ‘87!). He taught me that you can teach curriculum objectively to students, and still have very strong personal beliefs! He treated us all as adults—even though in retrospect—we probably didn’t deserve it. He never had us ask for permission to leave his class. If something was important enough for us to step out and miss instruction—he left it up to us to decide. At 51 I still remember how much that impressed me, and how few students ever took advantage of it. He was always smiling, and had a calm presence when you thought your whole world was falling apart (as many of us did, regularly in high school). I am so sad to hear that he succumbed to ALS. It seems to attack the most vibrantly alive people. I will always think of him fondly and with utmost respect.
Trina Jensen Roufs
One of the best teachers I ever had.
As a former student of Mr. Johnston, I wanted to pay my respects and to say how much of an impact Al had upon so many lives. My friends and I from Shorecrest still remember Mr. Johnston and all of the great lessons he taught us - the importance of civic participation, about inequality in society, love of Jazz, learning to read critically, treating everyone with respect. I will always remember him saying TINSTAFL, “There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch,” something that has stayed with me for decades. Many of the lessons he instilled in me inspired me to pursue my current career path working for the State Department.
We loved this guy so much and while I’m gutted to hear of his passing, I’m gratified to read about his full and amazing life. Thank you, Mr. Johnston ❤️
Mr. Johnston was an excellent, engaging teacher who cared very much about his students, and who was able to get us to care about the world.
David Conway '00
Mr. Johnston you were absolutely one of my all time favorite teachers, your kindness, wisdom and humor was just what us students needed.
Your Social Psychology class was so informative I took it twice.... :-) And loved the discussions.
Appreciated your patience and glad to read you had such a wonderful life
You deserved it.
Mr. Johnston was a remarkable teacher and my favorite class in high school was the world history course he taught. He found ways to engage his students in learning, kindle curiosity about the world, and reminded us to treat every being with the respect. He also had a great sense of humor.
I am so sad to hear of his passing, but so grateful to have had him as a teacher. Thank you, Mr. Johnston!
Al--Your love for life, adventure and learning will always be with me. I am so grateful for all I learned from you and for your friendship. Sending you so much love, Sara
There are a handful of teachers who made an indelible impression on my life, and he was one of them. Mr. Johnston taught social studies (maybe it was world geography the year I took his class?) but he really taught civics. In his portable classroom, we poured over the Washington State voter's guide, we read Marx and debated world events. He was always available to us, with a smile and his trademark turtlenecks. It was so obvious that he took joy in his students, and was fiercely dedicated to making the world better.
Kate Gammon, Shorecrest class of '99
I spent many afternoons and evenings playing basketball in Gurk's backyard with his brothers when we were young kids in Lewiston. He was a very caring and kind individual. Soar with the angels my friend.
Terry Scott, Lewiston class of '63
I remember World Geography with Mr. Johnston. He was a one of a kind teacher - and one perhaps that you don't fully appreciate in the moment. I mostly remember how passionate he was about teaching us about life. It wasn't all textbooks and projectors. Sure, he would stand in front of the class, but I also remember him getting down in a chair - and just having conversations with us - all while teaching us about life and responsibilities. Wishing his family peace and comfort.
Jennifer Fontaine, Shorecrest class of '99
It was an honor and a hoot to be taught and mentored by Mr J. I'm so grateful to have known him and to continue knowing Nancy, two extraordinary people whose wisdom and kindness and generosity have inspired the kind of person and parent I want to be. We should all be so lucky to have people like that guiding us through life! The world won't soon forget you, Mr. J.
Elizabeth Archer, Shorecrest class of 2000
Grateful to have had the opportunity to have Mr. Johnston as a teacher while at Shorecrest. I often think back as it was in his class that my future career path became really clear and I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in psychology and later became a counselor. He made the subject come alive to me in a way, unlike any other subject. I knew I wanted to keep integrating it into my life...he taught with such passion and care and I’m grateful for his influence. Sending condolences to his loved ones, I know he will be dearly missed.
Kim (Krueger) Kauffman, class of 1990
I transferred to Shorecrest in 1987 and didn't know a lot of people, but had found a great group of friends most people ignored or discounted. He was a teacher of mine in 1988 and was one of the few that looked past the exterior and saw me... letting me know, in an integral part of my high school experience, that he thought highly of me and my abilities. I remember very few teachers at Shorecrest, but I always remember him. He was a great teacher and human.
It is very sad that this Awful disease has taken such a wonderful teacher. "Mr. Johnston " was the first teacher that my best friend Karen Pierce(Gates) had together and how we met. We sat in the front row and were always passing notes in class and one day he caught us and announced to the class, "If Miss Laws and Miss Gares are ready to start class, we can begin" We were the last freshman class of Shoreline High School in 1986. After that my bestfriend moved to California and I moved on to Shorecrest High School and occasionally saw him in the hallway and always said Hi but never had for the rest of my 3 years at Shorecrest. He will surely be miss!!!
LaDonne Laws- Class of '89
True gentleman, and for our brief spell together at Shoreline High School, one of a group of treasured mentors. I think I still have the cassette of Springsteen tunes Al made for me. Thank you, Mr. Johnston, for your ever gracious spirit and unfailing kindness. RIP sir!
Mr Johnston was my teacher in 10th grade for Social Psychology. He was a great teacher who genuinely cared about his students. This was a very tumultuous year for me personally and I my memory of the actual school part of this year is fuzzy but I specifically remember this class and Mr Johnston's kindness.
Jennifer Hoverson - Class of 89