Imogene 'Gene' Johnson, pillar of Racine community, dies at 87

Founded The Prairie School in 1965

Imogene "Gene" Johnson, the matriarch of the S.C. Johnson family has died at the age of 87.

The Prairie School confirmed her passing on its website Sunday. Johnson founded the school in 1965. 

Parents and staff found out about her death Sunday afternoon and say the high school musical performance on Sunday was performed in her honor. 

"I think she's touched a lot of lives in the city," said Randy Maio, who had two children graduate from The Prairie School. "They kind of owe their success what they're doing now to what this school did for them, it prepared them."

Dr. Nat Coffman, the head of the school, sent a letter to families Sunday saying they are deeply saddened about her death, and that she was "a woman of great character, a charismatic leader, and a kind soul fervently committed to bringing out the best in children by inspiring their hearts and minds." 

Gene Johnson is the widow of Sam Johnson, the former president and CEO of S.C. Johnson. Sam Johnson died in 2004. 

They left behind four children, including H. Fisk Johnson, the current Chairman and CEO of the company, Helen Johnson-Leipold, Winnie Johnson-Marquart and Curt Johnson.

Gene Johnson also played a pivotal role in the creation of the River Bend Nature Center in Racine. She helped to secure most of the property there and greatly supported environmental education. A pavilion at the center was recently built and dedicated to her and her husband. 

Gene Johnson also served on the board of The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread and was the director of the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University.

She attended Cornell and received a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics, according to her bio with The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread.

She has an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Carroll College, an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Carthage College, and has been named Woman of Distinction in Education by the YWCA of Racine. 

The full statement from Coffman on her passing reads: 

The Prairie School community is deeply saddened by the passing of our founder and Board Chair, Mrs. Imogene Powers Johnson.

"A woman of great character, a charismatic leader, and a kind soul fervently committed to bringing out the best in children by inspiring their hearts and minds, Mrs. Johnson’s vision, determination, and passion are the primary reason why Prairie has grown into one of the finest independent schools in the country.

We are honored to be a part of her incredible legacy and remain forever committed to furthering her dream for this school – that Prairie always be filled with people who care about each other, strive for excellence, and work to make our community and the world a better place.

Plans for a celebration of Mrs. Johnson’s life will be shared here as they become available."

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