Kenneth Wayne Johnson
June 18, 1936 - July 30, 2022
Kenneth Wayne Johnson died Saturday, July 30, 2022. Wayne was larger than life in the best possible way. His early life was similar to that of so many rural kids in post-depression Missouri. Yet Wayne became a truly great person, superman in overalls (he hid the cape somewhere and we are still searching for it). He was civic-minded, helping to work the chewing gum stand at the Miller Fall Festival or to man the dunking booth, where his shouts of “rag-arm!” at wayward pitches still echo from the bricks of the Lions Club bingo hall. He was a volunteer fireman who risked himself to help others, once charging into a burning house, only to have the floor collapse beneath him. He emerged, his cape singed, but intact.
Wayne loved the lake, and spending time with his large family camping, skiing, and sitting near the fire. Every morning he roused the camp with an ear-splitting shout: “WHOOOOOO WAKE UP WORLD!” Many a hungover camper found their sleep disturbed when he sounded his barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world. We’re pretty sure Wayne took a perverse glee in awakening the camp at the crack of dawn.
Wayne had three careers. The first was as an installer for Western Electric Company. His work ethic was legendary. His second was as a school bus driver, where his quick thinking minimized the impact from a speeding semi. There were no major injuries, even though school bus seats were strewn across the highway. His third career was racing. He crewed for his brother Charley from 1963-1970 and raced with his nephews, Rayme and Robbie, along with Charley, from 1990-1997. In 1998, he became a crewman for Brett Bodine in the NASCAR Cup Series. He would go on to work for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, Michael Waltrip Racing, Roush Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing. With Gibbs he was part of a Cup Championship winning team. When he wasn’t working as a crewman, he was a motorcoach driver for Carl Edwards. He was loved and respected throughout the garage.
Wayne Johnson stories are legendary. He handled a chainsaw as if it were a sword. He drove a flaming truck down Main Street. He raced stock cars, winning a feature race well after he turned 60. He and his brothers drove down I-44 before it was complete and found out that it was closed for a reason. Whether it was getting airborne in a 1955 Chevrolet, skiing up onto the sandy beach, saving a starter with his toe, or riding down the interstate on the fender of an old truck, the legend of Wayne attained a near mythical status. It is true, every word.
Most of all, Wayne Johnson was a person who showed compassion and empathy to the world. He believed that you helped others because it was the right thing to do. Whether it was to care for a stranger, help a neighbor, or take in kids who needed a place to stay and an adult who would care for and about them, Wayne and his wife, Rosemary, lavished their kindness upon the world.
Wayne is survived by his partner in kindness, occasional verbal sparring partner, and wife, Rosemary Johnson, three biological children, Aaron and his wife Maureen of Pine, Colorado, Amy Taylor and her husband Justin, and Joe Johnson and his wife Beth of Miller, 8 grandchildren, numerous foster children, hundreds of people who were fortunate enough to call him friend, and thousands whose lives were impacted by his generosity and good will.
Mark Twain said, “Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry.” Today, the undertaker is in tears.
No services are planned at this time. Arrangements are under the direction of the Morris-Leiman-Mosher Funeral Home in Miller, Missouri.
In keeping with Wayne’s generous and kind spirit, we ask that in lieu of flowers you make a memorial donation for the Geology Field Education Fund at Northwest Missouri State University, with checks payable to the Northwest Foundation, Inc. 800 University Drive, Maryville, MO 64468. Please indicate ‘In memory of Kenneth W. “Wayne” Johnson’ in the memo line.
p.s. We are still looking for his cape. If you have any idea where he might have stashed it, please let us know.
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