September 15, 2004

Summit Middle School renamed
in honor of
Lawton C. Johnson

Lawton C. Johnson

Lawton C. Johnson

Photo by Girgis Shehata

An unprecedented half century of service deserves nothing less than an unprecedented tribute, and that is exactly what Summit Middle School's Office Manager, Mr. Lawton C. Johnson, received when the Board of Education elected to change the name of the school to the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School.

“This board is proud to recognize and honor Lawton Johnson’s service to our community at a level warranting this extraordinary recognition,” said Ms. Sandra Bloom, Board of Education President, when making the announcement of the name change at the Board’s September 14 meeting. “The devotion and commitment Lawton has brought to his position have set an example for all of us, and we as a community prize the qualities of selfless commitment exemplified in this admirable individual.”

Following the announcement, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carolyn Deacon added her support. “The staff and I are delighted at the Board’s decision to honor Lawton and his 50 years of service in this way,” she said. “This is a unique tribute, and no one is more deserving than Lawton Johnson. He is a loyal and committed employee and a true gentleman.”

Dr. Deacon read from a letter to the Board written by former Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Knowlton, who retired in June. “There is no one I can think of who is more deserving of this honor,” Dr. Knowlton wrote. “The naming of the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School exemplifies the value of service and dedication to an organization.”

Mr. Johnson was present at the meeting along with six other district staff members who were being honored for 25 years of service to the Summit Public Schools. Mr. Johnson is the first employee in the history of the Summit school system to attain 50 years of service.

“This is the most exciting day of my long career,” said Mr. Johnson following the announcement. “I am overwhelmed by such a fantastic honor. Many of you have given your time and effort in preparing for this occasion, and for that I offer you my thanks and appreciation.

“I have always referred to Summit Middle School as ‘my school,’ and now it really is,” he said. "What a thrill it will be for me to see my name on our historic building. I feel proud and privileged to be awarded this special recognition, and my thanks go to all of you who have supported me."

“I have won the Gold!” he enthusiastically proclaimed.

An inspired decision

Along with announcing the school name change, Ms. Bloom explained the background of the Board’s decision. She said that in recent years the Board has received requests to honor members of the school community. In consideration of these requests, the Board’s Operations Committee drafted a policy entitled, "Naming Buildings and Areas of Buildings and Grounds," which established criteria and a process for making decisions on such requests. In general, the policy recognizes that naming is an extraordinary action suitable for extraordinary and, therefore, rare situations.

The protocol established by the policy was followed for changing the name of the Middle School. In early 2004, former Board of Education President Susan Hairston established a committee comprised of herself, Board of Education members Mr. Harry Olsen and Mr. Tom O’Rourke, former Summit Mayor Walter Long, K-8 Science Supervisor and teacher Mrs. Christine Lijoi, K-8 Social Studies Supervisor and teacher Mrs. Maureen McCandless, and former Municipal Alliance Chair Mrs. Caroline Lindabury. The committee conducted background research and consulted with Dr. Knowlton and Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School Principal Dr. Theodore J. Stanik.

“Lawton Johnson has unselfishly given of himself for half a century to the people of Summit,” said Dr. Stanik, who works closely with Mr. Johnson every day. “In his quiet, unassuming way he has demonstrated a degree of professionalism and loyalty to this school and community that is truly remarkable. Each day, for over 50 years, Lawton has been the first to arrive and the last to leave. He has made his position here at school his life’s work, and I can't think of anyone more deserving of this special recognition.”

According to its report to the Board of Education, the committee recommended “without reservation” to name the building in Mr. Johnson’s honor.

“Mr. Johnson has served the district and this community in many capacities; however, we found his quiet, unassuming but action-oriented service to Summit Middle School truly remarkable,” reads the committee’s recommendation.

“Current and past administrators, faculty, and staff will attest to the fact that Mr. Johnson has gone above and beyond employer expectations in his devotion to Summit Middle School,” the report continues. “He is and always has been a true ambassador for the district. . . His incredible grasp of the district’s history and procedures has helped transition six superintendents, six principals, and countless other key district staff.”

The committee report stated that although Mr. Johnson’s reputation might not be apparent to all, the impact of his work goes even beyond the staff, and has indirectly benefited the thousands of students who have passed through the Middle School over the past 50 years.

“His contributions exemplify what the district upholds as a model of excellence,” committee members concurred.

In the 214-year history of the Summit Public Schools this is the first time a school building has been named in honor of an employee. The Summit High School library is named the Dr. Donald Geddis Library following Dr. Geddis’s retirement after serving as principal of the High School for more than 20 years. The Brayton School library is named in honor of Wilburn Nelson, who was principal there for more than 30 years.

An official dedication ceremony to rename the building the Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School is being planned and will be held sometime later in the school year.

Lawton C. Johnson’s service
extends throughout community

Lawton C. Johnson has dedicated not only 50 years of service to Summit Middle School, but he has also given countless hours of service to community organizations.

Lawton C. Johnson Jr., only child of Doris and Lawton C. Johnson Sr., was born in Summit. He attended Roosevelt School, Summit Junior High School, Summit High School, and Stafford Hall Business School. He received piano lessons from Capitola Dickerson of Summit.

  • Lawton worked part-time as office assistant at Summit Junior High School from 1954 through 1956 and became school secretary there following graduation from Summit High School in 1956. In 1962 he was named Office Manager of Summit Junior High School (which became Summit Middle School in 1988) and continues to hold that position.
  • Over his 50 years of service, Lawton has worked under six school superintendents: Roberts Reed, Roland Wolcott (interim), William Purcell, Robert Salisbury, Richard Fiander, and Michael Knowlton, and six Summit Middle School principals: Robert Woodward, Charles Kemper, Donald DeBanico, Joseph Czarnecki, Gerard Murphy, and Theodore Stanik.
  • Lawton’s paternal grandmother, Roberta D. Johnson, was one of the seven founders of Wallace Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church in Summit, which was dedicated on June 29, 1923.
  • Lawton has served as Minister of Music, Organist, and Choir Director at Wallace Chapel for more than 30 years. He was secretary of the Scholarship Fund and the Memorial Fund of Wallace Chapel for 20 years and has been president of these committees for the past 11 years.

Other service activities include:

  • Chair of Communications Committee for Summit Middle School Operations Plan - Alert, Warning and Communications Committee
  • Evening Administrator for Summit Adult Community School
  • Chair of Artists Committee for Summit’s First Night
  • Summit Area YMCA: served as member of Board of Directors, Youth Committee, Hi-Y Club Advisor
  • Secretary and trustee of Summit Civic Foundation
  • Member of Mayor’s Celebration Committee organizing events for Fourth of July; Treasurer of City of Summit Fourth of July Committee
  • Chaired the Speech Committee of the New Jersey Academic Decathlon under the leadership of Dr. Gerard Murphy
  • Secretary of Summit Preschool, Inc.
  • Chair of Constitution Committee of the Urban League
  • Member of Summit Lay Committee on Education
  • Newspaper editor and printer for Junior Chamber of Commerce

Lawton was elected Young Man of the Year in 1961 by Summit Area Junior Chamber of Commerce and he was named in the 1965 edition of Outstanding Young Men in America.