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Former KU AD and athlete Monte Johnson dies

Former Kansas Athletics Director and men’s basketball student-athlete Monte Johnson died...
Former Kansas Athletics Director and men’s basketball student-athlete Monte Johnson died Tuesday in Lawrence, Kan., his family confirmed with Kansas Athletics. Johnson was 84 years old.(KU Athletics)
Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 4:59 PM CDT
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (KU Athletics) - Former Kansas Athletics Director and men’s basketball student-athlete Monte Johnson died Tuesday in Lawrence, Kan., his family confirmed with Kansas Athletics. Johnson was 84 years old. 

“Monte Johnson was a true Jayhawk through and through, and he will be greatly missed,” said Kansas Director of Athletics Travis Goff. “Every decision he made as the Athletics Director was to better the University of Kansas Athletics department and the student-athlete experience. He certainly did that through facilities improvements, the construction of Hoglund Ballpark and the hiring of Larry Brown who won the first National Championship for Kansas basketball in over three decades. 

“After leaving KU, Monte, along with his family, continued to provide opportunities for student-athletes by establishing a scholarship to benefit walk-ons who earned an athletic scholarship. As a former KU men’s basketball walk-on himself in the 1950s, Monte’s love for the University and the desire to better the lives of others leaves a lasting legacy that will forever be engrained at KU.” 

Johnson began his career in the KU athletics department in 1961 as director of public relations, business manager and assistant athletics director. A former member of the men’s basketball team in the 1950s, he helped guide the KU Athletics Corporation board as an alumni representative from 1978 to 1982. 

After an 11-year banking career with Bank IV in Wichita, where he became senior vice president, Johnson returned to KU as athletics director from 1982 to 1987. He was KU’s 11th athletics director and one of his many highlights was the hiring of men’s basketball coach Larry Brown who guided the Jayhawks to the 1986 Final Four and the 1988 NCAA title. 

Johnson came to KU in 1955 on an academic scholarship after graduating from Wyandotte High School in his hometown of Kansas City, Kan. He was a walk-on on the basketball team and later became a part-time starter on the varsity team that included KU greats Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Bridges. Johnson was a member of the 1957 squad which reached the NCAA finals. 

Johnson earned a KU bachelor’s degree in business in 1959 and a master’s of business administration degree in 1967. He belonged to the Chancellors Club for KU Endowment and served on the KU Alumni Association’s national board of directors from 1971 to 1974. 

Following his stint as athletics director, the Johnson family still plays an active role in KU athletics. In 1997, the Johnsons donated $100,000 to create a scholarship for KU basketball walk-ons. In 2010, Johnson was presented the Fred Ellsworth Medallion by the KU Alumni Association. Established in 1975, the Fred Ellsworth Medallion honors individuals who have provided unique and significant service to the University. 

He and his wife, Kay Rathbone Johnson, also a KU graduate, are life members of the KU Alumni Association. The Johnson’s have two children, Jackie and Jeff, who are both KU graduates.