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Gerald R. Johnson Obituary


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“Rev. Johnson was the minister at Salem Church in Venedocia, OH when I was a girl. My father was Dwight McDonel the Superintendent at York School. I...Read More »
1 of 6 | Posted by: Joyce Gustin - Indianapolis, IN

“Ann, Jerry, and David: So sorry we can't be with you. Jerry was a very special man in our family's life. Daddy considered him his dearest friend. ...Read More »
2 of 6 | Posted by: PAT & JUDY MC NARNY - LOGANSPORT, IN

“Rev. Johnson was the minister at Salem Church in Venedocia, OH when I was a girl. My father was Dwight McDonel the Superintendent at York School. I...Read More »
3 of 6 | Posted by: Joyce Gustin - Indianapolis, IN

“Rev. Johnson was the minister at Salem Church in Venedocia, OH when I was a girl. My father was Dwight McDonel the Superintendent at York School. I...Read More »
4 of 6 | Posted by: Joyce Gustin - Indianapolis, IN

“Ann, Jerry, and David: So sorry we can't be with you. Jerry was a very special man in our family's life. Daddy considered him his dearest friend. ...Read More »
5 of 6 | Posted by: PAT & JUDY MC NARNY - LOGANSPORT, IN

“Rev. Johnson was the minister at Salem Church in Venedocia, OH when I was a girl. My father was Dwight McDonel the Superintendent at York School. I...Read More »
6 of 6 | Posted by: Joyce Gustin - Indianapolis, IN


Gerald R. Johnson, longtime local church leader and a principal founder of the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association, died at Indianapolis on May 1. He was 84.<br><br>The retired senior pastor of First-Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Jerry was born near Escanaba, Michigan, on July 27, 1919, the youngest of three children, to Danish immigrant parents. His father was a railroad section foreman on Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Jerry was the first member of his family to complete high school, going on to graduate from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio in 1940. He graduated first in his class from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1943, and began a long career of distinguished service as a Presbyterian clergyman.<br><br>After serving several congregations in rural Ohio and, later, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Toledo, Jerry came to Indianapolis in 1959 as senior pastor and head staff at Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church at 47th and Central Avenue. He was recognized for both congregational and denominational leadership, serving the governing church Presbytery as moderator (chairman) on multiple occasions and as chairman to the National Missions Committee, and was awarded as honorary Doctor of Divinity degree by Hanover College in 965. In 1971, Jerry was the principal architect of a merger that brought together the Meridian -Kessler congregation of Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church with the near-northside membership of First Presbyterian Church, one of the City's oldest congregations and a place of worship for many famous Hoosiers, including President of the Unites States Benjamin Harrison. The resulting congregation was known as First- Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church, which Jerry continued to lead until his retirement in 1979.<br><br>Jerry Johnson's leadership extended beyond the church and into the communities those churches served. He was awarded the state's highest citizen honor, being named a Sagamore of the Wabash, by Indiana Governor Harold Handley in 1960. Always active in civic affairs and civil rights, he was one of the principal founders of the Meridian-Kessler Neighborhood Association in the early 1970's. The MKNA remains today one of the City's most successful neighborhood coalitions and has played a pivotal role in keeping northside Indianapolis as one of the City's most attractive neighborhoods for living, working, worship and community life.<br><br>A gifted preacher widely recognized for his skills in the pulpit, Jerry found a second calling in retirement by working with Presbyterian congregations throughout the U.S. during the (often, two or three-years) interim period preceding the calling of a new long-term head of staff. Jerry served as designated interim pastor for several congregations, including Lake Charles Presbyterian Church in Lake Charles, Louisiana; East Liberty Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Hope United Presbyterian Church in Plainfield, Indiana; and Northminster Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis. While taking a "second retirement" from extended interim work in 1989, Jerry continued to preach and work with a variety of churches in the Indianapolis area for yet another decade. A lifelong poet and scholar, he also composed the lyrics for several works of both commissioned and published religious music.<br><br>Jerry is survived by his wife of 61 years, the former Anne M. Lawther; two sons, Gerald R., Jr., a banker in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and David L., a lawyer in Indianapolis; and one granddaughter, Catherine Nobles Johnson.<br><br>Jerry frequently observed that his life would be a success if, through his calling, he would leave just a part of the world a bit better than he found it. For all the people, places, institutions and communities he has guided; for the family he has truly loved; and for the legacy of decency he passes on, Jerry Johnson has truly achieved success beyond human measure.<br><br>Calling will be at Flanner & Buchanan, Broad Ripple, on Wednesday, May 5 from 4-7 p.m., with a memorial service at Zionsville Presbyterian Church on Thursday, May 6, at 2 p.m. In Lieu of Flowers, the family request that memorial contributions be made in honor of Gerald R. Johnson, D.D., to either Princton Theological Seminary or Zionsville Presbyterian Church.<br>