RACINE — Jennifer “Jen” Johnson, who along with her husband, Charles Johnson, donated more than $1 million to the Racine Zoo, has died.
She reportedly died Monday, about five years after her husband died in October 2012.
The Johnsons donated about 10 properties to the zoo over a 20-year period — contributions totaling about $1.5 million. The properties — along eastern Main Street and northern Goold Street — were once crowded with houses and a bar that kept the zoo hidden. Today, the land boasts more zoo animals and a clearly identifiable zoo entrance.
Charles Johnson served on the Racine Zoo Board of Directors for roughly 40 years — from the 1960s until his death.
For Jay Christie, who served as CEO and president of the Racine Zoo for 16 years before starting what is now Safari Lake Geneva, just knowing the Johnsons was one of the great privileges of his time at the zoo.
In addition to working with the couple on projects, he also enjoyed their love of animals, recalling how he once brought an otter to their home.
“I’ve often said that while no one person can take all the credit for the success of the zoo over the decades, no two people could take more credit than Chuck and Jen,” Christie said. “That is for certain.”
The zoo wasn’t the only benefactor of the Johnsons’ generosity.
On Wednesday, the Racine Police Department on its Facebook page expressed its “profound sadness” at the passing of Jen Johnson, noting her support of the department’s K-9 team.
The statement noted the significant financial contributions Johnson made to the department in recent years, including a “major donation” in 2012 which helped the department buy a third police dog. Johnson also donated money that helped equip squads to support the department’s K-9 unit.
The statement also said the Johnsons helped the Racine Fire Department purchase heat-seeking thermal imaging camera equipment for rescue operations.
“We are grateful for Jen Johnson’s generosity and lifetime of service to the Greater Racine Community,” the statement read. “Our community is safer through the support of Chuck and Jen Johnson.”
The Johnsons, who were married for 57 years, “chose a handful of causes and they gave of themselves, their time as well as their money,” Clare Johnson, one of the couple’s six children, told The Journal Times in 2012 following the death of her father.
“They wanted to make a truly significant impact and that’s what they did,” she said.
A well-known mathematician, Charles Johnson worked at IBM before starting a software company in 1970 with his wife, and an IBM colleague.
The couple sold the company to Rogue Wave in 2009.