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Chico State

Fond Farewell: Geography Professor Emeritus Ladd Johnson

Ladd Johnson and a woman holding a cat stand next to a car outside a home.
Photos courtesy of the Johnson family

Professor Emeritus Ladd Johnson, who taught in the Department of Geography and Planning for 21 years, passed away October 13. He was 90.

Born November 7, 1929, in Chehalis, Washington, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Chico State in social sciences in 1955, completed a master’s degree in geography from the University of Washington in 1964, and earned his PhD in geography from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1970. He taught at El Dorado High School and Chico Junior High School during his early career, before he was hired in 1966 as an assistant professor of geography at Chico State.

“Ladd was an ardent believer in the importance of education and teaching,” said geography professor emeritus and alumnus Jerry Williams. “His enthusiastic encouragement was responsible for a good number of Chico State students continuing their education at the graduate level and becoming teachers. In my own case, he convinced me to forego a high school teaching position and accept a graduate school fellowship. Four years later, I returned to Chico with a PhD and taught with him in the Geography Department for many years. I was delighted to have him as a colleague.”

Alumnus Chuck Nelson, former director of the Geographical Information Center, shared that it was Johnson who first hired him for a staff position working in the Geography Department Map Library when he was a graduate student.

“As a student and a staff newbie, Ladd treated me as an equal and went out of his way to support me in a growing but very divided department,” he said. “I originally intended to work until I graduated and move on, but the support that Ladd and others gave me became a career that ended 35-plus years later. Our friendship lasted much longer.”

Johnson specialized in political geography, underdeveloped nations, and water resource development. He was exceptionally active within his professional field and was a member of the Association of American Geographers, the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers, the California Geographical Society, the National Geographic Society, the African Studies Association, and the California Council of Geographic Education.

He served on the Chico General Plan Citizens Committee and presented often before community groups such as Rotary and Kiwanis. In 1975, he earned the Meritorious Teacher Award by the National Council for Geographic Education.

After earning tenure as faculty and serving as chair of the department, Johnson became the director of Regional Programs in 1973, supporting efforts to study 12 northeastern California counties that comprised the University’s service region and provide distance learning programs.

He retired in 1987. For many years, he continued to plan and assist with professional geography retreats in California and Washington, DC. He also remained committed to improving secondary and post-secondary geography curriculum, with a goal of modernizing the field to make it accessible and valuable for everyday people and everyday life.

Ladd Johnson holds a baby in his arms and smiles down at it.
Johnson truly loved being a grandfather and doted on his son’s and daughter’s children.

A true global geographer and lifelong educator, Johnson traveled extensively throughout his life, usually combining vacations with opportunities to forge connections with other geographers and education institutions in other countries. Some of his most notable trips included the Trans-Siberian Railway, Chernobyl, and the Karakorum Highway as he partnered with educators in China and Ukraine.

In retirement, he found a new career as a business owner, starting Johnson Self Storage, where he worked nearly every day for the last 30 years. He was drawn to the human connections he made there, bonding with clients and using his tremendous listening skills to talk about the world and the lives that were stored within their units.

He is survived by son Ryne Ladd Johnson, daughter Tracy Lind Johnson, and several grandchildren.

The University flag will be lowered Tuesday, December 15, in his honor. No services are planned. Memorial contributions may be made in his name to the Barbara Margaret Johnson Re-Entry Scholarship, which was named for his wife and supports their shared passion to assist students returning to college after serious hardships.