Robert Johannsen


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URBANA – Robert W. Johannsen, 85, J.G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, died on Aug. 16, 2011, at Clark-Lindsey Village, Urbana.

A memorial service will be held at a later date. Inurnment will be in Wilhelm's Portland Memorial Mausoleum in Portland, Ore.

Mr. Johannsen was born on Aug. 22, 1925, in Portland, Ore., the son of Walter Johannsen and Hedwig B. Flemming. He married Lois A. Calderwood on March 19, 1949, in Portland. They had 59 wonderful years together until her death on Dec. 25, 2008.

Survivors include his two children, Nancy L. Morrice (Kevin) of Portland, Ore., and Robert D. Johannsen of Pacific Grove, Calif., along with four grandchildren, Katherine J. Morrice of Santa Cruz, Calif., Stuart J. Morrice of Portland, Ore., Andriah L. Johannsen of San Ramon, Calif., and Ryan M. Johannsen of Lake Mary, Fla.

He is also survived by his sister, Betty L. Ramsey (Leon) of Portland, Ore.; sister-in-law, Maryhelen Calderwood of Portland, Ore.; and several nieces and a nephew.

Mr. Johannsen grew up in the Laurelhurst neighborhood in Portland and graduated from Washington High School in 1942. He attended Reed College, Portland, Ore., in 1943 but his college years were interrupted by service in World War II in the 291st Field Artillery Observation Battalion in the Sixteenth Corps, Ninth Army. He served in Europe, using his math skills to determine the location of enemy artillery and later, after V-E Day, became a sergeant of the guard in a camp for German POWs.

He returned to Reed College and graduated in 1948 with a degree in history. He met his future wife and love of his life, Lois, at Reed. Mr. Johannsen cherished his Reed education and supported the college his entire life.

In 1953, he received his Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington. After teaching for a year at Washington, Mr. Johannsen taught at the University of Kansas for five years.

In 1959, he joined the History Department at the University of Illinois where he happily taught for more than 40 years, until his retirement at age 75 in 2000. His classes were concentrated in 19th century American history: the trans-Mississippi West, the age of Jackson, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Mexican War.

Mr. Johannsen was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow in 1967-68 and received an appointment to the University of Illinois Center for Advanced Study in fall 1968. In 1974, he was named the J.G. Randall Distinguished Professor of History. He received an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, from Lincoln College in 1983.

Over the course of his career, Mr. Johannsen wrote hundreds of articles and reviews and a number of books, including "Frontier Politics on the Eve of the Civil War"; a definitive biography of the "Little Giant, Stephen A. Douglas," which was awarded the Francis Parkman Prize for Literary Distinction in the Writing of History; "To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination"; "The Frontier, the Union, and Stephen A. Douglas"; and "Lincoln, the South, and Slavery: The Political Dimension." His last project was a comprehensive biography of James K. Polk.

Professor Johannsen may be best remembered for his love of and dedication to teaching. His Civil War class was one of the most popular at the UI. In 1995, he was honored by the establishment of the Robert W. Johannsen Undergraduate Scholarship Fund.

He guided more than 35 Ph.D. dissertations and brought his graduate students together in informal meetings at his home, a lively group that evolved into the "Little Giants." The Little Giants became professional historians themselves, and 11 of them honored him with the publication in 2006 of the book, "Politics and Culture of the Civil War Era: Essays in Honor of Robert W. Johannsen."

Mr. Johannsen was active in many historical organizations, including the Abraham Lincoln Association and the Great American People Show, a theater company based in New Salem. He contributed to several television documentaries, including Ken Burns' "The Civil War."

He had many interests outside his work, including his philosophy club, traveling (especially road trips), taking pictures and giving slide shows, concerts and plays at the Krannert Center, baking bread, gardening, stamp collecting and single malt whiskies.

Most importantly, Robert Johannsen was a devoted husband and father who lived his life with integrity, honesty and humility. He will be deeply missed by his family and friends.

Memorial contributions may be made to Reed College, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., Portland, OR, 97202, or a favorite charity.

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