Alumnus awarded for achievements

by Jeremy Taff

Forty-one years ago, Lee Johnson used to hitchhike to class at the University every day from St. Paul. For Johnson, getting to class back then has paid off in the present.
Last week the University presented the Outstanding Achievement Award to Johnson, a 1957 graduate in mechanical engineering. The achievement award was meant to recognize Johnson’s unusual distinction in his chosen profession, engineering.
The ceremony took place at the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, two blocks from the homestead from where he hitched his way to campus for five years.
“It was quite a moment,” Johnson said of the award ceremony. “I’m pretty humbled by it all.”
Gov. Arne Carlson, University President Mark Yudof and more than 100 friends, family and government officials helped honor Johnson, who has co-chaired the Mechanical Engineering Building Campaign Committee for several years.
“Education means an awful lot to him,” said Johnson’s wife, Betty. “He really is proud of this University and wants to give back to it and his community.”
The award stirred sentiment in Johnson’s mind, reminding him of his parents’ intense desire to educate their children, Betty Johnson said.
“Although we were from a very modest family, my brother and myself were going to go to college,” Johnson said. “I think I got a great education.”
After graduating, Johnson worked at 3M until 1970, when he and two other University graduates founded Reell Precision Manufacturing, a company that builds motors, clutches and other parts used in computers, copiers and similar machines.
Regents’ Professor Richard Goldstein, who headed the mechanical engineering department for 20 years, worked with Johnson when he began raising funds for the new mechanical engineering building.
“He’s very, very positive,” Goldstein said. “Not only has Lee been a very successful engineer, entrepreneur and corporate leader, but he has very high moral standards with his employees, competitors, customers and suppliers.”
After the ceremony, Goldstein helped Johnson retrace his steps as he walked down the street toward his former stomping grounds on Summit Avenue.
“It’s a very important award and Lee is highly deserving of it,” Goldstein said. “He’s worked very hard and been very generous in his personal support as well as his company’s support of the mechanical engineering fund-raising campaign.”