Kent Robert Johnson (7/21/1949-4/1/2018) was the Library Director for the Purdue North Central campus for 34 years. K.R. was born in Wichita, Kansas, but grew up in Southern California, where he discovered his love for marine biology, the literature of John Steinbeck, and the philosophy of science. He later attended the University of California, Irvine, earning a B.S. in marine biology before moving to Indiana to attend the University of Indiana, Bloomington to earn Master’s degrees in the Philosophy of Science and in Library Science.
The self-proclaimed “Old Man of the Library” (even when he wasn’t particularly old), K.R. devoted himself to building the Library’s collection, especially literature, poetry, and philosophy. He was also a well-loved professor of ethics, philosophy of science, and Great Issues classes on the North Central campus. He would often do in-costume performances, playing his much-loved John Donne, and give poetry readings on campus for students and staff. K.R. could often be found wandering the library, singing songs from musicals such as “Hair,” songs from his favorite band The Doors, or making up his own songs such as this one (sung to the tune of the Oscar Mayer Wiener song):
“Oh, I wish I was a Dostoyevsky novel.
That is what I’d really like to be.
For if I was a Dostoyevsky novel,
No one else would ever bother me.”
He sometimes substituted “Pirandello drama” for “Dostoyevsky novel.” He delighted in entertaining students and coworkers with elaborate snow village displays, complete with tall-tales about avalanches, train wrecks, Santa Claus being kidnapped, and Yeti over-running the town.
K.R. enjoyed collecting rare books (especially those of John Donne, John Steinbeck, and Ed Ricketts), the art of photography, collecting rare costumes and hats, and naming his cats after characters from Star Trek, The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Lord of the Rings, and Greek drama.
I knew K.R. for over 20 years. He hired me as the Technical Services Librarian for Purdue North Central in 1997. I am proud to have counted him as a great friend. Please visit the Westville Campus Library to see a memorial plaque in honor of my dear friend. And, if you are of legal drinking age, raise a glass of black and tan in his honor.