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Winter 2002

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Geologist Johnson retires

Ken Johnson leads an “environmental walkabout” in the North Woods in May 1991.

     Accepting Joe Palamountain’s invitation in 1966 to develop a program in ecology at Skidmore was one of the best decisions of my life,” claims geosciences professor and acting chair Kenneth Johnson. “Being a part of what’s been built here has been an uplifting, though at times a tad exhausting, experience. It’s a privilege to have been a part of the team.”

     Johnson, who retired in Decem-ber, came to Skidmore with a B.S. in geology from Union College and a Ph.D. from RPI. His teaching specialties include human-land interactions, geomorphology, and environmental geology. Last fall he received an Honorary Membership Award from the Eastern Section of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists—the world’s largest geological society. The association’s second-highest honor was given in recognition of Johnson’s nearly fifty years of distinguished professional achievement in industry, government, and academia and exemplary service to the AAPG.

     During his tenure at Skidmore Johnson was awarded about twenty research grants. With his expertise in deltaic sedimentation and land-use planning, he was able to explain the geologic underpinnings of a serious

     E. coli outbreak at the Washington County Fair near Saratoga. In 1981 Johnson’s colleagues recognized his outstanding record of scholarly accomplishment by selecting him for the Edwin M. Moseley lectureship.

     What he’s enjoyed most about teaching at Skidmore, Johnson says, is “having the freedom and latitude to provide educational options for students.” He taught in the Univer-sity Without Walls prison program, too, and says among his most memorable Skidmore moments was giving the commencement address for UWW graduates at the Washington and Great Meadow correctional facilities in July 1989.

     Kathy Cartwright, a colleague in the department of geosciences, says Johnson “possesses all the extraordinary qualities that most people spend a lifetime trying to acquire—including excellence in research, scholarship, and teaching; kindness; patience; an unchanging positive and gentle demeanor; and great care, consideration, and respect for those around him—colleagues and students alike…I can’t say I’ve ever met anyone quite like him, and truly feel saddened by his imminent retirement.”

     Johnson’s students, too—past and present—have expressed their fondness for the professor. During her sophomore year, Ellen Waters ’76 signed up for a geology course to fulfill her science requirement. “Little did I know,” she recalls, “that Ken Johnson would awaken some dormant curiosity I had about the world around me.” Waters was inspired to take every other geology course she could and did an independent study with Johnson. Looking back, Waters remembers Johnson’s “thorough and patient teaching style. He was always available to answer a question or just chat after class or during office hours. He was clear in his expectations and gentle in his criticism…He encouraged us to dig deeper and think analytically.”

     While he has enjoyed his tenure at Skidmore, Johnson is matter-of-fact about his retirement, saying, “There is much to look forward to.” As professor emeritus, Johnson plans “to continue study of the New York State lower Hoosic Valley river terraces and, in Connecticut, to contribute however I can to the Farmington Land Trust and the Farmington River Watershed Association.” —MTS


© 2001 Skidmore College