Celebrating a Century of Scholastic Journalism Education

JEA Centennial

Celebrating a Century of Scholastic Journalism Education

JEA Centennial

Celebrating a Century of Scholastic Journalism Education

JEA Centennial

Dick Johns’ legacy of generosity and leadership in scholastic journalism

Dick Johns, winner of the 1982 Carl Towley award.

As a driving force within the world of scholastic journalism, former Quill and Scroll Executive Director Dick Johns has left his mark on journalists worldwide.

Johns retired in 2012 after 50 years, teaching at the secondary school level for eight years and then serving for 42 years at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Iowa City from 1968-2012. He was director of the Iowa High School Press Association for four years before serving Quill and Scroll, the international honorary society for high school journalists from 1972-2008.

Johns was the epitome of diplomacy, grace and style in all he did.

Former University of Iowa colleague Vanessa Shelton, who served as IHSPA executive director prior to her tenure as Quill and Scroll executive director, described Johns with the word “generous,” noting that his generosity “encompasses so much of his character and his contributions as a scholastic journalism educator and administrator.”

“For decades, Dick generously offered his time, expertise and assistance to his students, fellow educators, organizations and his community. Even in his retirement, he continues to contribute to the betterment of those constituencies through advocacy and rolling up his sleeves to do the work. At times that generosity has come with personal sacrifice, yet he is gracious (another word I believe describes him) in his resolve to help,” she said.

Shelton reminisced about her time working with Johns.

“For about 20 years, I witnessed this consistent generosity as his office neighbor and colleague at the University of Iowa School of Journalism. There, I served in roles Dick once held, including as director of the Iowa High School Press Association, the University of Iowa Summer Journalism Workshops and Quill and Scroll Honorary Society for High School Journalists. In the latter role, I succeeded Dick upon his retirement, but we continued to collaborate as he served as president of the Quill and Scroll Board of Trustees. We also were involved in organizations, such as the Scholastic Journalism Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and in the Journalism Education Association. He was an exemplary role model and supporter, generous with his time, patience, support and expertise. I contend there is less than six degrees of separation between Dick and scholastic journalism teachers nationwide,” she said.

Scholastic journalism icon H.L. Hall chose three words to describe Johns -“organized” “caring” and “fun.”

“I was on the Quill and Scroll board for several years, and he was always concerned about each board member. He had a well-planned agenda for each meeting, which meant everything went smoothly. I missed my last board meeting because fog had enveloped the airport in Iowa. I made it to Chicago, but I never made it to Iowa. He tried his best to find a way for me to make the meeting, but the fog never lifted,” he remembered.

“I was able to get to know how much fun Dick could be when I roomed with him at a couple of JEA/NSPA conventions and when I roomed with him at some Ball State workshops. He had a great sense of humor. I don’t think I would have known that without him being a roommate. I think Dick’s easy-going personality made him everyone’s friend. I miss not seeing him on a regular basis,” Hall said.

Johns’ influence, no doubt, lives on in a multitude of journalism classrooms across the nation. He coordinated the publication and national distribution of Quill and Scroll’s “Principal’s Guide to High School Journalism” that helped principals better understand the role of the journalism advisers in their schools.

Another legend in scholastic journalism, Jack Kennedy, then an adviser in Iowa City, took Johns’ advising newspaper and yearbook courses. One of the words he used in describing Johns was “organized.”

“The key purchase for each class was a three-inch, three-ring binder. Each class began with Dick passing out a stack of handouts (this was the late 1970s and early ‘80s), and the class inserting them into our binders. I have no idea how much paper and copying this added up to, but he must have practically lived at a nearby copy center. Those two notebooks become de facto texts, curated by Dick, who made comments on each of them. And, yes, we took notes on the pages. Old school,” Kennedy shared.

Like Shelton, “generous” was also a word Kennedy used regarding Johns.

“I was lucky to teach in Iowa City, and when I had the brainstorm to ask Dick to come to City High to conduct the actual Quill and Scroll ceremony in (this is a guess) 1985, he never hesitated, and he rarely missed in future years. His presence and his intensity made the experience all the more memorable for the students. When I later asked him if it were possible for Kathleen to be made an honorary member of the Society in 1996 due to her many, many years helping organize the event, not to mention her dozens of chaperoning excursions, he not only produced the certificate but brought it mounted on a plaque. She displays that plaque over her desk today,” he said.

Kennedy’s third descriptor was “foodie.”

“Dick knew every unique and intriguing restaurant in every city hosting a JEA or CSPA convention (well, that was always NYC). Many times, he would organize a party to head off to somewhere only he knew, and we would pile into one or more cabs and just place ourselves in his capable hands. We were never disappointed,” he said.

Another memory Kennedy shared was that of his “induction into the ‘Adviser Club’ (meaning the far-flung group of educators who thought of advising as their avocation as well as their vocation)” — which started with Johns.

“Everyone knew Dick, and that meant that if you happened to be hanging out with him, YOU eventually met people. Dick spans multiple generations, of course, and few advisers today could possibly remember the giants of our profession: from Colonel Savage to Wayne Brasler to Randy Vonderheid, to Bruce Waterson … and so many more. They were and are giants to me. I stole from them shamelessly (only amateurs borrow),” Kennedy said.

“Dick introduced me to John Butler in 1978, who was the director of IHSPA, and that led to so many great years on the IHSPA board … and THAT led to serving on the JEA board. Dick’s love of scholastic journalism was infectious and one of my motivations for pushing myself and my students was, frankly, hoping we could impress Dick Johns,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy also noted that a cadre of incredible advisers – he dubbed them the “Iowa Mafia” – must owe at least something to Johns.

“From Rod Vahl to Ben Van Zante to Merle Dieleman to Donna Manfull to you [Ann] and so, so many more …. The Hawkeye state boasted some incredible publications for decades. I know I can’t measure Dick’s influence on all that excellence, but it’s like watching a Caitlin Clark logo-three. I’m not sure of the physics or the exact arc of the ball or how she maintains her balance… but I can see the results. Dick would laugh off my waxing poetic and calling him the “Pistol Pete” or “Caitlin Clark” of scholastic journalism, but he was and is that sort of game-changer. Simply the best,” he concluded.

Jeff Browne, a past Quill and Scroll director who now serves as senior lecturer in the Department of Communication and adviser to The Stevenson Villager at Stevenson University, labeled Johns as “loyal.”

“Dick Johns has been loyal to Quill and Scroll, its advisers and its members for more than the 55 years now. Starting as an assistant director to Lester Benz, Dick took over the executive director position in 1972 and stayed on through 2007. Since then, he has been the bulwark on the Q&S board, helping the organization navigate the tempest-tossed seas of scholastic journalism through the Great Recession of 2008, the COVID epidemic of 2020-21 and the merger in 2022 with the National Scholastic Press Association. In fact, despite the change of scene and leadership in 2022, Dick insisted on ensuring a smooth transition by serving on the NSPA board. It is his unwavering commitment to scholastic journalism and its international honor society that makes him stand out,” Browne said.

“Personally, I will always treasure the days that Dick stopped by the office at the University of Iowa to offer tips for any initiative I planned. His steadfast support meant the world to me,” he said.

Finally, Linda Puntney, MJE, publications consultant, emeritus faculty at Kansas State University and former JEA director, said her one-word descriptor is “Gentleman.”

“Professionally and personally, I know of no one who treats everyone they meet with as much respect, kindness and genuine consideration as Dick Johns. Whether dealing with Quill and Scroll details, collaborating with other organizations or organizing a dinner outing for colleagues, Dick Johns always thinks of others first,” she said, noting that the organization he led for decades honors and encourages students and student achievement in all 50 states and 29 countries.

“Johns seems to be laser focused on raising up individuals and doing what is best for the group. The decision to have Quill and Scroll produce and distribute “A Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism” was a life changer for many advisers and administrators. It was the first time something tangible could be placed in the hands of administrators so they might understand the role of student journalism and their responsibility to support it,” she said, adding this P.S. “The man never ages. He’s looked 40ish for decades!!”

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