Raised on a small dairy farm in Oregon's Coast Range, Peter Johnson, '55, understands better than most the transformative power of higher education. He and his wife, Rosalie, also have done more than most to ensure that future Oregon Staters enjoy the same benefits.

The son of a Swedish immigrant with a mechanical aptitude but limited formal education, Johnson grew up near Triangle Lake. For his first years of school, he was part of a class of six, taught by his mother. In 1950 he graduated with a high school class of 12. "Going to college was almost unheard of in our area," he said. Yet Johnson made his way to OSU.

He earned a chemical engineering degree and also took several business classes, gaining practical experience through a summer job with Shell Chemical. He launched a career that culminated in establishing Tekmax, a company that revolutionized battery manufacturing equipment. The Tangent, Ore., company was sold in 2004.

"Oregon State set me on the right path," Johnson said. "Rosalie and I believe that with hard work, persistence and education, anything is possible."

To help future generations of Oregon State engineering students get a great start on their careers, the Johnsons have made leadership gifts to all three priority areas of The Campaign for OSU, supporting students, faculty and facilities.

First they established the Linus Pauling Chair in Chemical Engineering to honor Oregon State's most famous graduate. The endowment supports a faculty member with industry experience who mentors students and helps them develop skills in communication, organization, project management and leadership.

The Johnsons then launched a unique scholarship-internship program for students in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. They later donated $2.4 million to endow the program, providing a permanent source of funding. Since its creation in 1998, about 150 students have benefited from the program, which offers paid summer internships at Oregon companies or university research labs after students complete just one year of college.

"We are so pleased to meet the Johnson Scholars, who make us and OSU very proud of their leadership abilities, work ethic and accomplishments," said Rosalie Johnson. "And it is exciting to see women enthusiastic about engineering and other courses previously dominated by men!"

On the facility side, the Johnsons helped build the CH2M HILL Alumni Center and the Joe Schulein Computer Laboratory.

Their latest commitment of $7 million will allow OSU to build a new facility for the College of Engineering.

“The Johnsons already have made an enormous difference for students in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering," said President Ed Ray. "Now these students will also have a beautiful academic home base, a place that inspires breakthroughs and provides the tools to make them happen. It's a remarkable legacy."

--Courtesy of the OSU Foundation

Published Date: 
Tuesday, July 16, 2013