W. Hilton Johnson

1935 to 1997
Glacial Geology

W. Hilton JohnsonWilliam Hilton Johnson, known to his many friends, colleagues, and students simply as "Hilt," was one of the most highly respected and best known Quaternary geologists in the country. His studies of Pleistocene stratigraphy and sedimentology, glacial and periglacial geology, and geomorphology of Illinois were regarded as among the finest examples of thorough investigation and objective interpretation.

Johnson was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. He received an A.B. degree from Earlham College in 1956 and earned an M.S. in 1961 and a Ph.D. in 1962 from the University of Illinois, all in geology. Upon receipt of his doctorate, he joined the faculty of the Department of Geology at the University of Illinois, where he moved steadily through the ranks and served as Acting Head (1993 to 1994) of the Department. He retired in 1995.

Johnson was also affiliated with the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), beginning during his graduate student days, when he was hired during the summers to map and conduct research on the glacial geology of central Illinois, and remaining through his retirement. He was well-known and much respected among ISGS staff and was an integral part of the ISGS Quaternary research program. He participated regularly in Quaternary committee meetings, conducted research on glacial and periglacial geology in Illinois, supervised student research theses, helped organize and lead Quaternary field trips, and coauthored numerous ISGS publications and journal articles with many ISGS staff. He was also an active participant in the Midwest Friends of the Pleistocene and was principal organizer and leader of the 1972 field conference held in Illinois. At the time of his retirement, he was presented with an ISGS Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to the knowledge of the Quaternary geology of Illinois.

Central Illinois was the focus of much of Johnson's research, from his early papers on till stratigraphy to his research documenting evidence of short-lived permafrost conditions during the last glacial maximum, his synthesis of the landscape, sediment sequences, and ice-sheet dynamics of the last glacial episode in Illinois. Johnson effectively used the relatively flat terrain of central Illinois as his teaching laboratory. In his quiet, yet enthusiastic way, he motivated others to appreciate its uniqueness and subtleties. Johnson is remembered as a person of high principles and friendly disposition-a sincere friend and a true gentleman.

Honored by: 
Ardith K. Hansel
Citation Contributed by: 
Myrna M. Killey
From GSA memorial, v. 30, December 1999; much is verbatim.