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Scott Johnston

Submitted, Star Tribune

Obituary: Scott Johnston put Hamline on the map

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH
  • Star Tribune
  • August 30, 2011 - 9:25 PM

Scott Johnston grew up a block from Hamline University, taught there for nearly 50 years and lived most of his life in St. Paul. His mind, though, was always on countries a world away.

"He became a world-class expert in Arab-Israeli relations," said Ole Runquist, a chemistry professor who knew Johnston for 55 years. "He was an outstanding scholar."

Johnston died Sunday at his home in Roseville. He was 88.

After serving in World War II and graduating from the University of Minnesota, he started teaching political science at Hamline in 1947. Israel became an independent state the following year, helping to inspire a lifetime of studies in Arab-Israeli relations for Johnston.

Johnston's expertise in Middle Eastern politics connected the St. Paul university to international organizations across the world, shaping Hamline into a globally oriented school.

"He got students interested in that part of the world," said Joe Peschek, chairman of the political science department. "He was kind of a pioneer in encouraging Hamline to be more internationally oriented in terms of the courses he taught, encouraging students to travel and bringing in speakers from around the world."

Johnston was always studying current events around the world, "unlike those of us who go fishing" in their free time, Runquist said. "That was his passion -- reading and keeping abreast of what was going on."

Johnston's teaching abilities astonished his colleagues as much as his mind did.

"When he got started, the excitement just rolled off," Runquist said. "He wasn't lecturing; he was telling an exciting story."

Rozanne Ridgway attended many of Johnston's lively classes before she graduated with a history degree in 1957.

"They were as entertaining as they were informative," said Ridgway, who went on to a 32-year career as a U.S. Foreign Service officer. "He was revered, and he was a fixture on the campus."

Johnston's classes also struck a chord with Robert Mikulak, who studied chemistry but was intrigued by international politics. He took only one of Johnston's classes, but the professor left a lasting impression on the 1964 graduate.

When he later returned to Hamline to teach chemistry, he asked Johnston if he could also teach political science, too -- an unconventional combination that Johnston embraced.

"He took a chance on me," said Mikulak, now the U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Netherlands. "And it looks like it succeeded."

Johnston retired in 1992, but continued to teach at Hamline for six more years.

He is survived by his wife, Laura, and daughter Linda, both of St. Paul, and son Laurance Johnston of Albuquerque, N.M. Services will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Hamline United Methodist Church, 1514 Englewood Av., St. Paul.

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

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