Harper Johnson Jr. Fondly Remembered for His Generosity and Support of Education

January 2012 By

Respected Mississippi engineer Harper Johnson Jr. is being fondly remembered at the University of Mississippi School of Engineering by faculty, staff and a student benefitting from Johnson's generosity.

Johnson, 96, died Sunday (Jan. 1) at Indywood Glen in Greenwood. Services are set for 2 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 4) at Wilson & Knight Funeral Home Chapel with interment in Odd Fellows Cemetery. Rusty Douglas will officiate."Harper Johnson afforded me an incredible opportunity through his engineering scholarship, and his example will always shape my career," said Alan Barger of Oxford, a senior civil engineering major and recipient of the Elsie and Harper Johnson Jr. Endowed Scholarship. "Through his passion for engineering, he found a way to inspire others in the same field. His selfless investment gives me a platform to work off of with no limitations, as well as the drive to achieve my goals."

After high school, Barger began furthering his education at Delta State University, but left school to work in his family's irrigation business before earning a degree. He later resumed his education at Mississippi Delta Community College, where he did exceptionally well in calculus and other mathematics classes.

"I enjoyed those courses so much there that I decided I somehow wanted to become an engineer rather than go back to work doing what I was doing," said Barger, 30. "Once I made up my mind, I found my niche and started making plans to get my engineering degree. Mr. (Floyd) Melton (a Greenwood attorney for the Johnson estate) recruited me to apply for the scholarship at Ole Miss.

"Not too many people get a chance to go back to college and that's what his gift gave me."

Barger is making outstanding progress toward his degree. Originally scheduled to have been a teaching assistant for Engineering Graphics 207 in the fall, he has instead become a research assistant in the school's National Center for Computational Hydroscience and Engineering.

Others in the engineering school also recalled Johnson's remarkable benevolence.

"Mr. Johnson was a major donor who has set up the scholarship endowment in his and his wife's names," said Alexander H.D. Cheng, UM engineering school dean. "Such benevolence is especially appreciated in these difficult economic conditions."

"I have had the privilege of seeing Mr. Johnson's generous investment in the life of one of our students bear much fruit over the past two-and-a-half years," said Marni Kendricks, instructor and assistant dean of the engineering school. "Alan Barger has demonstrated outstanding leadership in our Engineers Without Borders project in West Africa, worked extremely hard in his classes and gotten involved as an undergrad in research work for the NCCHE. I have no doubt Alan will achieve great things one day in his professional career and that Mr. Johnson would be very proud."

Born in Senatobia, Johnson attended Senatobia City Schools, Northwest Mississippi Junior College and UM, where he was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Though he didn't complete his Ole Miss degree, he later did earn an electrical engineering degree from Indiana Institute of Technology and was certified by the Mississippi State Board of Registration of Professional Engineers and licensed to practice as a professional engineer.

During the early part of World War II, Johnson received a direct commission as an officer in the Signal Corps and served in the European, South Pacific and Far East theaters, reaching the rank of captain. He was a member of the American Legion Post 29. After the war, he served as vice president and member of the board of directors of Supreme Inc., which now operates as Supreme Electronics Corp., a division of Hickok Inc. Before retirement, he was associated with Greenwood Utilities in an administrative and engineering capacity.

He was a member of the Mississippi Engineering Society and the National Society of Professional Engineers, and was active in promoting the national Math-Counts Program for pre-high school students. He served on the board of directors of Cottonlandia Museum and Educational Foundation. He was active as a volunteer in the IRS-VITA program to offer free assistance to individuals with their income tax returns.

Johnson and his wife, Elsie, were big proponents of education. They established the Elsie and Harper Johnson Jr. Scholarship Endowment to provide full engineering scholarships at Ole Miss, with preference to students from Leflore and Tate counties to encourage students to major in and become engineers and hopefully return to their home communities to practice. He also contributed to the John Lucas IV Teacher Excellence Education Fund in his and Elsie's name. Pillow Academy has named its elementary building Johnson Hall.

He was a member of the Greenwood First Presbyterian Church and served as a deacon, elder and Sunday school teacher. Johnson's wife preceded him in death. He is survived by three nieces and six nephews.