Joyce Perry Johnson loves reading and has learned listening is most important. 

By Kris Dreessen

Joyce Perry Johnson ’48 spent her first year as a Geneseo student in Emerson Hall, sharing the large boarding house with 15 other women. World War II wasn’t over, and the lack of male students — only one among the 300-plus undergrads — meant all men’s sports were canceled. She and her friends used to walk to the movie theater and diners on Main Street and treat themselves to fancy dinners at the Big Tree Inn.

Johnson enjoyed the special concerts students organized each December, and sang in a few. She and her roommate hitchhiked into Rochester for her roommate’s violin lesson because no one had cars — and thankfully, they were safe.

“Times were different back then,” laughs Johnson. 

Johnson majored in library science at Geneseo, thanks to her high school librarian, who was approachable, easy to talk to — and a Geneseo graduate. 

“I was a true nerd and spent a lot of time in the library,” remembers Johnson, laughing. “She finally said, ‘I think you would enjoy the college I attended.’ I love books. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but that sounded like a good place to start. I am thankful she did recommend Geneseo.”

Johnson grew up on a farm in western New York and immediately felt like she fit in on campus. Rural Geneseo felt comfortable, classes were small and people were nice. She spent her upperclass years living in a house on Park Street with her Alpha Kappa Phi sisters,near where Brodie Fine Arts Building now stands.

Faculty encouraged students to get out of the back row and participate, says Johnson — a fact she still appreciates. In addition to her classes, she was fascinated by the handset-type process used to put together The Lamron — another nerd move, she says — and went on to hold several positions at the paper. 

The year she graduated, 1948, Geneseo saw two big milestones. It officially became part of the SUNY system, and moved from a Normal School to a public liberal arts college. 

Johnson also scored a position as a librarian for the DuPont chemicals company in Buffalo. Another Geneseo graduate was doing such a good job in that role, Johnson remembers, the company sought another Geneseo alum.  In 1950, she transferred to DuPont’s headquarters in Wilmington, Del. She worked in the headquarters’ technical library for eight years, managing collections of technical books and research reports used by scientists and engineers for research and development.

“It was a wonderful experience,” she says. “I met amazing people.” One of them was Ph.D. chemist Donald Johnson, whom she married a year after their introduction.

After they had their son and daughter, Johnson chose not to return to work. “All in all, I made the right decision, and my children are still speaking to me, so that’s a good thing,” she says.

Both of Johnson’s children live in Portland — one in Maine, one in Oregon. Donald died in 1998. She’s still active in her church and has been active in the League of Women Voters for many years. She says the pandemic has slowed down her outings to concerts and theater performances she enjoys, but she’s watching the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and other performances online. And she still loves to read.

“That’s no big surprise,” she says.

While much of her life has revolved around reading for enjoyment and supporting others’ endeavors through books and research, Johnson nowadays focuses more on listening.

It’s often difficult for people, including herself, she says, to truly listen to another person’s views and feelings before they respond. She’s also hesitant to believe she knows how someone else feels or what they experience. 

“I try very hard to listen and make sure I understand where they are coming from before I start to reply,” she says. “I’ve learned that to really help a person, or yourself, you have to do the basic listening. It’s not always easy to do, but it’s important to try to walk in other people’s shoes. If you don’t listen completely, who knows what little gem you are going to miss?”


Class of 1948: Joyce Perry Johnson’s recent reading list: 

Barack Obama, “A Promised Land: The Presidential Memoirs, Volume 1” (2020).
“It’s a rather large tome. It was so heavy I had to find a comfortable chair to prop it up. I loved it. It’s beautifully written and an amazing story.”

Gerald Durrell, “The Overloaded Ark (1953)
Durrell, a British naturalist, shares his journey to Cameroon with an ornithologist to collect animal specimens. “I found it on my shelf and saw I had written ‘Merry Christmas’ to my father, in 1953, on a page. I wanted to read it.”

Terry Gross, “All I Did Was Ask: Conversations with Writers, Actors, Musicians” (2004)
Host and co-producer of National Public Radio’s Fresh Air program shares three dozen of her most memorable interviews. “She also shares what it was like to interview the person.”