Rick Johnson, 1945-2019

Richard Johnson passed away in Minnesota on January 10th, 2019. He was born May 24, 1945 in Omaha, Nebraska. His parents were Philip Graham Johnson and Della Jane Bowman Johnson. He was deeply interested in science from an early age, especially Astronomy. At the age of eight he built his first telescope, grinding his own lenses. While in High School at Lincoln Southeast he met Professor Carroll Moore of Nebraska Wesleyan University. Rick became part of a small group of students who, along with Carroll and Jess Williams, formed the Prairie Astronomy Club. One of Rick’s close friends from that group was Peter Schultz who went on to become a top researcher in cratering and planetary geology at NASA and Brown University. Rick completed a law degree and later an accounting degree. He taught accounting at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln for many years.

From even a young age he was interested in photography and became fascinated with photographing astronomical objects. When he found that existing chemical developers didn’t do what he wanted, he invented his own developer. It was not only cheaper to make, it performed better than any commercial developer.

Rick was part of the founding committee that built Hyde Memorial Observatory in Lincoln in 1977. At the time public stand-alone observatories were a rarity in the US. For many years he volunteered at Hyde Observatory to host groups of school kids. He met Holly Whitmore one night at Hyde and they were married in 1991.

He continued his passion for astrophotography as the world moved into the digital age. When Rick and Holly moved to Nevis, Minnesota in 2005 to build their dream home at the edge of Paul Bunyan State Forest, he was able to build an observatory as an addition to the house. He received national and international acclaim among astronomers both amateur and professional for his imaging and the extensive documentation that he did for each image. His data was even used by professional astronomers in their research. And as he processed the images, he sent them out on an ever-expanding e-mail list that included not only the previously mentioned astronomers but also schools across the country.