Nature 10

Richard A. Johnston

March 10, 1933 ~ August 8, 2022 (age 89)


Former University of Idaho Alumni Director Richard Alan (Dick) Johnston passed away August 8th, 2022 at his home in Moscow surrounded by his three children. As Alumni Director, Dick helped build a vibrant network of supporters for the U of I - throughout Idaho and across the country. In the process he made many lifelong friends of his own. In his subsequent career as a financial planner for Northwestern Mutual Life, Dick became a trusted advisor to businesspersons, educators, and farmers throughout the Palouse. 

Dick was born March 10th, 1933 in Seattle, WA, the middle of three sons, to Alph and Gladys (nee Butler) Johnson. Alph hailed from several generations of sawmill operators and Gladys trained to become a registered nurse at Seattle General Hospital.

In 1940, the family moved to Orofino, ID so that Alph could help his father, William J Johnson, operate the Johnson Mill. The family’s rustic new home consisted of a log cabin (formerly a mill cookhouse) that lacked running water and electricity.  Dick and his brothers soon adapted to milking cows and raising chickens, and the city boys soon took to hunting and fishing in the forested surroundings. His parents went on to local leadership positions and instilled in Dick a strong work ethic, a sense of personal and social responsibility, and an awareness to be prepared for opportunity.

Dick liked to recall that when the family moved to Orofino, he was advanced a grade and subsequently graduated from high school and started at the University of Idaho in 1953 at the age of 16. At UI, Dick earned a BS in business, completed the ROTC program, and made his mark as intramural ping pong champion two years in a row

Dick served in the Army from 1953-1955. After officer training at Ft Benning and a transfer to Ft Lewis, Lt. Johnston was stationed at Camp Roeder near Salzburg, Austria. Here he was trained to ski the Austrian Alps (a tough duty!). During his last year of military service he bought a VW bug and traveled 15,000 miles throughout Europe on the weekends, fostering Dick’s lifelong love for adventure and exploring other cultures. His enormous slide collection is graced with images of Italy, Germany, Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Canada and most U.S. states. 

Stateside again, Dick moved to Los Angeles and worked in sales at the TWJ lumber company and later at two catering companies. In 1961 Dick met the love of his life, Marlene Neubronner, an elementary school teacher, at the Hollywood Young Republicans Club. After that their lives changed quickly. In six months they were married, settling in Santa Monica, and four years later they had three children: Ken, Erika, and Nancy. As he advanced in his sales career Dick distinguished himself as the point man for organizing University of Idaho alumni events in Southern California, including gatherings at Santa Anita Race Track, Dodger baseball games, fossil hunts, and dinner dances at the Balboa Bay Yacht Club. His skills in organizing and entertaining caught the eye of retiring Alumni Director Jim Lyle, who recommended Dick as his replacement. Upon his hiring Richard quickly moved to Moscow and his family followed shortly thereafter.

Dick’s philosophy as Alumni Director was one more of “friend-raising” than fundraising. He cherished his time traveling the state connecting students, faculty, and alumni.  Older alums will recall toasting the Vandals at lively soirees at the U of I Alumni Office and the Johnston household was frequently abuzz with alums from around the state who descended upon their home for Vandal football weekends.  In 1969 Dick founded the Student Alumni Relations Board (SArb) which continues to serve the U of I community today. 

In 1981 Dick joined the Moscow office of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance. He became a lifelong student of financial planning and directed his talents to helping Palouse families establish and preserve their financial security. 

Dick was an active member of the Moscow chapter of Rotary International for more than 24 years, serving as president for a term and as program chair for more than a decade.  He very much enjoyed opening lines of communication between Moscow’s university and business communities and nurturing lifelong friendships. Dick credited his experience in Toastmasters International for giving him the speaking skills and confidence to excel professionally. He attended Los Angeles Toastmasters for ten years and served one year as the L.A. Area Governor. 

In 1995 Dick and Marlene retired to the now renovated home where Dick was raised near Orofino. Here they shared their love of gardening: Marlene for flowers and Dick for anything edible. Among his children and grandchildren’s favorite memories are cutting firewood, digging potatoes, and driving the tractor with Dick, and each summer grazing full meals from the berries, grapes, and fruit trees he cultivated. One proud year 42 varieties of fruits, berries, and vegetables flourished from his tireless farming. For several years Dad raised a couple steers and, ever sensible and frugal, bartered with neighbors up and down Whiskey Creek Canyon for spare pea vines and corn stalks to fatten the steers by September.

Retirement afforded Dick even greater access to the mountains and streams he had enjoyed fishing and hunting since childhood.  He relished his annual salmon fishing trips to Vancouver Island and among his hunting prey he counted 49 elk, a moose, and a bison and estimated the effort exceeded a year spent with intrepid friends in cold hunting camps. His children never took to hunting, but all three inherited his curiosity about the natural world and deep appreciation for Idaho’s wilderness.

Friends and family will remember Dick for his wit and avuncular nature, and his love of good conversation. Marlene exercised great patience with him at social functions as he was frequently the last to leave, ever engaged in conversation for another laugh or anecdote to keep in his mental file for future reference. In recent hospitalizations he enjoyed learning the life stories of the doctors and nurses who treated him for COPD, many of whom seemed genuinely sorry to see him leave. 

Dick was predeceased by his parents Alph and Gladys Johnson, his wife Marlene Johnston, his brother Ron Johnston and sister-in-law Glenna Johnston, all of Orofino.

He is survived by his brother Phil Johnston of Orofino and his three children, son Kenneth Johnston and daughter Nancy (Brian) Zabriskie of Moscow and daughter Erika (Geoff) Johnston-Keith of Lexington, MA. He is further survived by grandchildren Joe (Morgan) Zabriskie and Elaine Zabriskie of Boise, ID and Martin Keith of Lexington, MA, brother-in-law Fritz Neubronner of Chicago, IL and several cousins, nieces, and nephews.

A funeral service will be held 11:00 AM Monday, August 15, 2022 at Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 1036 West A Street, Moscow, and will be followed by a gathering of family and friends at noon at the Best Western in Moscow

The family requests that memorial gifts be designated to the UI Alumni Office through the University of Idaho Foundation or to the Moscow or Orofino Rotary Cl


Funeral Service
August 15, 2022

11:00 AM
Emmanuel Lutheran Church
1036 W A St
Moscow, ID 83843

August 15, 2022

12:00 PM
Best Western University Inn (Moscow)

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