Monte Carlyle Johnson, 84, passed away on May 25, 2021, in Lawrence, KS at Bridge Haven, after a courageous battle with Parkinson’s disease. Monte will be cremated and there will be a private burial at Pioneer Cemetery on KU’s West Campus. Monte was born on January 23, 1937, in Peoria, IL, the son of Dorothy (Bay) and Archie Johnson.
Monte and his three brothers grew up in Kansas City, KS. He attended Wyandotte High School, where he excelled both in academics and athletics as a starter on the 1955 State basketball championship team. After graduating in 1955, Monte attended The University of Kansas on an academic scholarship. He was a walk-on member of the Jayhawk basketball team and earned a starting spot on the freshman squad. He was good enough in competition to become a part-time starter on varsity teams that included his good friend Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Bridges, along with other Jayhawk greats. Dick Harp was Monte’s coach, but Phog Allen watched Monte hit long shots and said, “nice shooting son.” Monte was also a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and was the Phi Delt Man of the Year in 1989.
Monte’s first job after college was as a marketing city salesman for Skelly Oil Company. In 1960, he returned to KU to pursue a master’s degree. In 1961, Monte married Kay Rathbone Johnson, after asking her if she liked sports, and she assured him that she did. Thus began his proudest accomplishment, the beginning of the family that he loved so much. Monte was a loving husband and always made sure that people knew that much of what he accomplished was made possible by the love and support from Kay. Their partnership worked well because they complemented each other with their different skill sets and interests. It is no secret that Monte was the cook in the family and his famous spaghetti dinners were always a favorite meal at family get-togethers. Monte and Kay enjoyed attending KU sporting events and especially cheering on their family members in whatever sporting event they participated in.
In 1961, Monte joined the KU Athletic Department and served as promotions director, academic counselor, business manager and assistant athletic director. In 1970, he resigned from KU to join the Fourth National Bank in Wichita where he worked for the next 11 years, eventually becoming Senior Vice President.
In 1981, Monte and the family moved back to Lawrence, and he worked with long-time friend Bob Billings as president of R.G. Billings Enterprises. Their partnership developed much of what is known as the Alvamar area. Shortly thereafter, in 1982, Monte became the Director of Athletics at KU, and continued in that position until 1987. He was proud of his decision to hire Larry Brown as the KU Men’s Basketball coach, which ultimately changed the future course of KU basketball.
Monte was very involved in the Lawrence community and the KU community. He held leadership positions in many civic and philanthropic organizations. He was a skilled fundraiser, and many of you reading this have probably been on the receiving end of one of his solicitation calls. He was a successful fundraiser because he truly believed in the causes that he raised money for and volunteered countless hours in the pursuit of helping many worthy organizations.
Monte served as a member of the Athletic Corporation Board of Directors, the Board of Directors for the KU Alumni Association, as well as the Board of Directors for the Douglas County Community Foundation, just to name a few. He was a member of the Williams Educational Fund, the Chancellors Club, and the K-Club. Monte was the recipient of the Fred Ellsworth Medallion in 2010, presented by the KU Alumni Association. He also received a civic award from Baker University for his work at KU. While it is interesting to learn about Monte’s academic, athletic, and professional accomplishments, to really know Monte Johnson is to understand how important his family was to him and how important he was to his family.
Kay and Monte have a daughter, Jackie, and a son, Jeff. The family has grown to include Jackie’s husband, Bryan, and their children Jordan (Carl) Lisher, Hilary (fiancé Kyle Postlethwaite) Ferguson, Jackson Ferguson, Nicole (Garrette) Roff and Emilie and Zach Johnson, as well as great-grandkids Pierce, Mason and Madeline Lisher. Jeff and his wife, Corey, have three children, Eley, Price, and Carlyle. Monte enjoyed spending time with his family watching KU athletic events, playing golf, playing I-Spy with the grandkids at Dairy Queen, driving the grandkids around on his red golf cart, attending numerous little league sporting events for Jeff and the grandkids and even coaching many teams in his early years. The “Grandpa whistle” of congratulations was easily recognizable in the stands. It was easy to see that family was first and foremost in his heart and a source of great pride. He often signed his cards and notes to family as Y.E.L.D. (Your Ever Loving Dad). Monte was preceded in death by his parents, his beloved in-laws, Jack and Jerry Rathbone, and two of his brothers, Jon and Archie. Monte is survived by his brother Kris (Marcia) Johnson, as well as his nieces and nephew.
Monte was not only a cheerleader for his own family but for so many others as well. He was well known for clipping newspaper articles about friends and sending them to the person with a handwritten note saying congratulations. He had a knack for remembering names and made everyone feel special that he came into contact with. His calendar was full of birthday reminders for friends and family, and many were the lucky recipients of a phone call from Monte and Kay singing them the Happy Birthday song. He was a reference source for many as they began their job search and took pride in mentoring many young people throughout his career.
Monte’s sense of humor was second nature to him. He was a wonderful emcee at events and could heap praise or roast a colleague all while maintaining an air of class and dignity. His talent for playing the spoons was shared on occasion, to the delight of many. He treated everyone with respect and appreciated all of the blessings that he had. He worked hard his entire life to come from very modest beginnings and instead of being bitter or resentful, he was motivated to succeed and make sure to provide for his family and the community through his generous, genuine heart and contributions. He never forgot that it was the generosity of the Donnely Scholarship and the Benjamin Stansbury Scholarship that made it possible for him to attend KU. He paid it forward every day and inspired others to experience the love that he had not only for the University but all of the opportunities it provided him and his family throughout his life. His love of life and especially family will be emulated by those who loved him. Monte had a strong faith in God and made it his mission to live with a good Christian heart and help so many people by offering a hand up and a chance to succeed.
Though Monte is deeply missed by family, they find comfort in knowing that he will be with them in spirit and in their hearts at upcoming and future family events, such as what would have been Kay and Monte’s 60th wedding anniversary in July, the birth of Jackson and Taylor Bonello’s first baby, and Hilary and Kyle Postlethwaite’s wedding.
In honor of Monte, we would like to encourage everyone to take the time to reach out to family and friends, with a note, a phone call, or even a birthday greeting to let them know that you are thinking of them and proud of them. We always knew how much he loved all of us because he was never shy about saying “Love ya” or “be careful” as we would head out into the world. He will forever be in our hearts and guide us by the lessons of life and love that he taught us both by example and his insights………. Y.E.L.F. (Your Ever Loving Family)
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to KU Endowment for the benefit of KU. Those proceeds will be used to support the work of the KU Alumni Association, KU Athletics and the KU School of Business, all areas of great importance to Monte. Please make checks payable to “KU Endowment” and address them to: KU Endowment, ATTN: Memorial Gift Processing/Monte Johnson, P.O. Box 928, Lawrence, KS 66044. To give securely online, visit kuendowment.org/MonteJohnson
Alternatively, donations may be made in Monte’s memory, to the charity of your choice and sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, KS 66044-3402.