Michael Johnson of Jerome passed away on Feb. 9 from complications of a heart attack. He was an adventurous, talented, romantic and sparkling soul. He loved trying new recipes, was teaching himself how to paint with watercolors, and enjoyed mowing the lawn around his home while singing at the top of his lungs. Michael loved to wear Scottish kilts with Hawaiian shirts and he always did a “happy dance” on the first day of spring. He didn’t feel a day was complete without a latte at breakfast and a glass of wine with dinner.
A friend described Michael as “the king of companionship and conversation, nobody more fun to share the spoken word with…so smart, funny, witty, wise.” He was, indeed, all of those things.
Michael was born in Evanston, IL, in June 1941. He grew up playing stickball in the alleys of Chicago, waiting for fly balls to come over the wall of Wrigley Field when the Cubs were playing at home, and listening to wartime broadcasts on the radio. It was a “Red Letter Day” when Michael’s beloved Cubs won the World Series in 2016. He attended Catholic school through high school and then earned a Humanities degree from Seattle University. Later in life, he earned two Masters degrees in Education and Theatre Directing from Seattle University and the University of Idaho respectively.
Theatre was Michael’s passion. He loved acting, directing, staging and watching theatre. His first starring role was as Curly in “Oklahoma” and dozens of acting roles and directing successes followed over the course of his lifetime. His favorite acting roles were as the ghost of actor John Barrymore in “I Hate Hamlet” and Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”
Michael also loved teaching. He had been an adjunct faculty member at the College of Southern Idaho since the late 1990s. He taught Intro to Theatre, Communication (Speech) and, most recently, developed and taught a course about Happiness and Success. Students would often remark that his classes had been their favorite and had had a positive influence on their lives.
Michael retired as a Lt. Commander from the Naval Reserve where he served as a Broadcast Specialist and Intelligence Officer. He also spent eight years as an undercover police officer and public relations officer for the Seattle Police Department. His broadcasting talent got him news anchor, talk show host, and disc jockey positions in Seattle, Spokane and Pullman, WA, where he met his future wife Monie Smith. They both worked at Northwest Public Radio and then moved to Boise where they worked at BSU Radio. Michael then went to work at the Idaho Dept. of Labor where he was a Job Service Specialist and the Public Information Officer. He retired from working life as the Emergency Planner for South Central Public Health District.
Not one to sit idle for long, Michael’s retirement included running his own small theatre space in downtown Twin Falls, being a “gentleman farmer,” continuing to teach at CSI, and playing guitar at the Twin Falls Senior Center once a month for several years. He loved the adventure of traveling to far-flung locations including Thailand, Costa Rica, Italy, Portugal, France, England and Japan, from the west coast to the east coast of Canada, but his favorite spot was Hawaii. He loved seeing buildings and landscapes in the places to which he traveled, but he always felt that the real joy was meeting the people and learning about their culture.
Michael is survived by his wife, partner and best friend of 33 years, Monie Smith; his brother-in-law Ed (Phuong) Smith of Filer, ID; his brother Robert (Ginger) Hively of Winona, MN; sister Judy Hafeman of Chicago, IL; brother Doug Johnson of Fox Lake, IL; and sister Carol (Bob) Orwig of Marinette, WI. He is preceded in death by his mother Geraldine Johnson Abbatiello and stepfather Doug Johnson of Chicago, and by his father- and mother-in-law Ted and Jennie Smith of Twin Falls.
Michael loved animals of all kinds, but his darling Shih Tzu “Mr. Darcy” held a special place in his heart. Those wishing to acknowledge Michael’s life are asked to make a donation to the Twin Falls Humane Society, 420 Victory Ave., Twin Falls, ID 83301.