Robert Elwood Johnson. Photo provided

Contributed by the Family  

Robert Elwood Johnson, who was an active community and church leader, sports participant, and an employee of Nutone for 33 years, died March 14, 2023, in Cincinnati, Ohio, surrounded by five children and their spouses. He was 87.

Mr. Johnson was born January 12, 1936, to Peter Joseph Johnson and Hazel Overton Johnson, the fourth of 10 siblings. 

Bob, as he was affectionately known, attended Woodlawn Elementary School, from the first throughout the eighth grade. He went on to attend Lockland Wayne High School, from ninth grade until graduating in 1954. He was a very active and social student while attending Lockland Wayne. He’d played baseball, basketball and was associate editor of the school newspaper.

Mr. Johnson was such a standout baseball player, especially at the position of pitcher, that after graduating from high school, he was signed to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds organization. However, his time as a professional baseball player was cut short, as he would sustain a career ending shoulder injury and had to return home.

After returning home, Mr. Johnson joined the United States Navy in 1955. While in the Navy, on April 27, 1957, he married the love of his life and his childhood sweetheart, Shirley Ann Jasper, whom he had known since he was in the fifth grade. and she was in the fourth. Their union would go on to produce five children and one bonus child.

After being honorably discharged from the Navy, he returned home to Cincinnati and attended the University of Cincinnati and the Ohio College of Applied Science at night. During the day, he worked at Nutone as a driver and carton handler. He would receive his Associate Degree and would be promoted to the company’s Marketing Department. He would later transfer to the Purchasing Department as a buyer, becoming the first Black executive in Nutone’s history. He would work as a buyer for Nutone for the next 33 years, until his retirement in 1991. He also worked for the only professional basketball team in Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Royals, as a statistician.

Robert Elwood Johnson and Shirley Johnson. The Cincinnati Herald photo

In 1966, Bob and Shirley would move their family from Madisonville to Kennedy Heights. Realizing that Blacks were not allowed to participate in sports on the City of Cincinnati’s recreation teams, Bob and several other men from Kennedy Heights and Silverton formed the Ken-Sil Organization. Ken-Sil went on to become so successful and competitive that White parents began signing their children up to play on the Ken-Sil teams. At the height of Ken-Sil’s existence, there were more than 20 baseball teams, 17 basketball teams, and a girls’ soccer team.

Bob and Shirley were extremely active with the Kennedy Heights Community Council, holding a number of offices, including Community Council president.

Mr. Johnson was also a super involved father with his children, including their educational and extracurricular activities. That practice continued with the grandchildren. He often participated in Grandparent’s Day and hardly ever missed an athletic event or concert.

Bob, a church elder, and Shirley, were 33 year members of the Church of Christ in Kennedy Heights, often leading Bible studies and conducting marriage seminars.  They could often be heard on the BUZZ AM 1230 radio station providing marriage advice to listeners. Their love story spanned more than seven decades. Their commitment to marriage was so profound that they renewed their wedding vows on their 25th, 30th, 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries.  

Their love bore the “50 Plus” Marriage Club, which celebrated couples in the African American community, who were married 50 years or more. This annual celebration gained the attention of television personality Steve Harvey, who invited them to be guests on his show in 2019 to share their wisdom on marriage with the country

Mr. Johnson was a true community leader and family man, who coached and mentored numerous young people throughout the years.  He was an avid softball player for Nutone’s company team and bowler. 

He loved dancing with his wife Shirley, reading poetry and his Bible, and traveling with family and friends. He also remained active with the Lockland Alumni Association.

Mr. Johnson is survived and honored by his four sons, Robert Jasper Johnson (Rhonda), Michael DeWayne Johnson, Scotty Johnson and Jeffrey Kent Johnson (Juanita); his daughter, Julian Jasper Johnson (Julia); his four siblings, Elizabeth Ann Jones (Sonny), Kenneth Oscar Johnson, Houston Tyler Johnson (Jewel) and Deborah Lavada Allen; 10 grand-children and 12 great-grandchildren; and a host of nieces and nephews. He shared special bonds and was considered a brother by Jannis Robertson and James Jasper, (both siblings of his late wife Shirley) and Hank Robertson; lifelong friends, Mrs. Maxine Yates (Tony-deceased), Mr. and Mrs. Donald and Lucia Hudson, Mrs. Shirley Larkin (Robert-deceased), Mr. and Mrs. Curtis and Denise Bykes, Mr. and Mrs. Bill and Carmella Towles.

He was preceded in death by his loving wife of 63 years, Shirley Ann Jasper Johnson; his bonus daughter, Monica L. Lewis; his parents, Peter Joseph and Hazel Olverson Johnson; brothers, Leroy Olverson Johnson, John Alan Johnson, Lloyd Michael Johnson and James Harley Johnson; and sister, Petrena Allen Johnson.

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