Beloved Mary Johnson, ‘Legend’ of Lower Baldwin, Passes Away

Her smiling face welcomed Albion College students into the dining hall for nearly four decades

February 28, 2017

Mary Johnson in Baldwin.

Mary Johnson, an Albion institution, passed away on February 27. She is pictured here in 2005, when she was the subject of the Two Minutes Q&A in the Winter/Spring 2005-06 edition of Io Triumphe! magazine. More recently, Johnson was featured in The Pleiad.

By Chuck Carlson

Mary Johnson knew everybody and, perhaps more important, everybody knew Mary Johnson.

Positioned at her familiar spot at the entrance of Lower Baldwin dining hall, hers was often the first face bleary-eyed students would see when they came to breakfast and one of the last they’d see at dinner after a tough day of classes.

But it was a face that for nearly 40 years was soothing and calm and smiling. Always smiling.

“She knew everybody’s name, literally,” said Claire Van Raaphorst, ’14, an engagement officer in the College’s Office of Institutional Advancement. “She was the quintessential grandma to all Albion students.”

“If she didn’t know every student’s name, she certainly knew most of them,” said Mike Van Houten, co-director of Stockwell-Mudd Library, who knew Mary for years and whose neighbor is Mary’s son, Rick. “She’d always greet them with ‘Hi’ and they’d always say, ‘Hi Mary.’ She was an incredibly kind person.”

Mary Johnson passed away Monday, February 27, at the age of 75, and her loss has left a hole in the Albion College community.

When the news became public, social media reaction was swift and sad and full of memories.

Former and current students, staffers and faculty reacted with stories of Mary’s kindness, and they mourned the passing of someone who many say they will never forget.

“When I returned to work at Albion College, 19 years after my first year with Mary, she remembered me the first time I walked back into Baldwin,” said John Thompson, ’02, Albion’s associate vice president for marketing, communications and events. “That’s a rare talent.”

“She’d let you sneak cookies out [of the dining hall],” Van Raaphorst said. “She scolded you for not wearing a coat. Her one job was to check people in and she did it with a smile on her face. She treated every single kid like her grandchild. She’s a legend.”

Van Raaphorst also recalled the time she broke her ankle her junior year and Mary was there to help.

“We used trays then and it was impossible to hold a tray with crutches,” she said.

But Mary made sure either she or someone on staff was available to help her carry her tray to the table.

“She was the queen of making sure I got fed,” Van Raaphorst said.

When Kim Arndts, ’84, came back to Albion as associate director of donor relations and stewardship five years ago, Johnson remembered her.

“I graduated in 1984 and she was taking my card 30 years ago,” Arndts said. “But when I came back to work here she came around the register, gave me a hug and said, ‘Welcome back, Miss Kimmie.’ I will miss her smiling face. Baldwin will never be the same.”

David Lauffer, general manager of the College’s Café Bon Appétit dining service, said Mary worked through the fall semester before stepping away for scheduled surgery.

“She touched a lot of people and she has been doing that for 37 going on 38 years,” he said “That’s at least two Albion generations. It was certainly the right role for her and she loved it. She could have retired years ago but she wanted to see the new classes.”

Said Van Houten: “She was just a wonderful, wonderful person and it’s sad she’s gone. She was a great representative for the College.”

UPDATED: Visitation will be held Thursday, March 2, at J. Kevin Tidd Funeral Home, 811 Finley Drive, in Albion from 4 to 8 p.m. Funeral service will be Friday, March 3, at 11 a.m. at the funeral home. Those wishing to make a memorial donation in Mary’s name can send it to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, Tenn. 38105.

Additionally, Albion College is honoring Mary through the creation of The Mary Johnson Memorial Fund.