The Importance of Life-Long Learning – David Johnson  

David Johnson standing in front of maps

David Johnson is an explorer. Throughout his life, he’s always been interested in the unknown, and pushing the boundaries of his own knowledge and experience. His blue eyes sparkle with energy and focus, and he loves to engage in conversations with friends and strangers alike.

His apartment at The Kenwood Retirement Community is full of books, maps, and photos of the many places he has lived. Especially important are the maps. As he said, “an accurate map has no interest to me.” He much prefers a map that has mistakes, or empty spaces – the Terra Incognita. This is a sign of a life-long learner who acknowledges what is unknown and learns about it.

David’s whole career has been about education, and he continues that theme in his life at The Kenwood. After graduating from Gustavus Adolphus College in Sociology, he went on to University of Iowa for his M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology. He taught and was in administration at several institutions including Luther College, St. Cloud State, and his alma mater, Gustavus Adolphus. Perhaps his favorite job was chancellor at University of Minnesota – Morris, from 1990-1998. He likened the job as being the one who “sweeps the chancel every morning and dumps the ashes.” David was at once fundraiser, speaker, booster, and problem-solver. He’s proud to have been part of Morris, one of only a handful of universities in the United States that is both public AND a liberal arts institution. He helped fulfill its mission to offer an excellent education for people who desire the socio-economic and racial diversity of a selective public institution. He speaks fondly of those years and keeps in contact with former Morris students who have gone on to do great things.

After retirement (a word to be used loosely when applied to David) he went on (among many other activities) to be the president of the University of Minnesota’s Elder Learning Institute (now Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or OLLI) from 1999-2001. David continues his passion for learning at The Kenwood where he recently initiated Kenwood Kollege (he is a believer in alliteration.) The Kenwood Retirement Community is known for its wide range of activities, including exercise classes, outings, brain games and more. But after the isolation induced by COVID, David wanted to create a “health club for the mind” by offering The Kenwood residents a way to connect and challenge their minds by interacting with speakers who are experts in their fields. Recent Kenwood Kollege guest speakers include Maria Sheremata, vice chair of the Ukrainian-American Community Center speaking on the war in Ukraine, and  Jim Hart, a health care expert speaking on the idea of Medicare for all.  Future guests in the monthly series include Myron Just speaking about agriculture, Judge Lois Conroy speaking about the justice system, and Loralee di Lorenzo speaking about Bountifield International, a non-profit working in Africa.  Kenwood Kollege is “one more arrow in The Kenwood quiver” which makes The Kenwood such a great place to live. David sees it as his duty to not only provide learning opportunities for Kenwood residents, but also show the large community and speakers what a highly educated and interesting group the residents at the Kenwood are. Channeling his work as the Morris chancellor, David is used to bringing people together and making things happen.

When he was living in Norway and working for the National Institute for Social Research, David wanted to bring something special back as a memory, and he hit on the idea of rare and antique maps. He then became an avid collector. One of his favorites is a map of Norway, engraved in the 1570s by a mapmaker in Amsterdam. Northwest of Oslo the map shows an empty white space – Terra Incognita. It’s not that nothing is there, it’s that the area was inaccessible at the time of the map’s making. It’s a reminder that no matter how much we know, there is always a “terra incognita, ” an acknowledgment of what we don’t know YET.  It perfectly sums up the adventurous and learning life of David Johnson.