February 3, 1938 - February 23, 2024
Those of us who knew the late Michael J. Johns, Sr. were well aware of the enduring mark he left on Rotary, here and around the world, as well as on each of us whose lives he touched.  Here we wish to take a few moments to pay tribute to his memory by sharing just a few of the details of his Rotary journey for those of you who did not have the opportunity to meet this Rotary “giant.”
“…coach, mentor, cheerleader, craftsman, artist, teacher, scout leader, Rotarian, man of faith and service.”   These are just a few of the words used to describe Mike by his family, whom he loved above all else.  
A monument builder by vocation, he brought an incredible level of artistry to his craft that carried through into all aspects of his life.  He was also one of the most humble of individuals you could ever meet and when he spoke to you, you knew you had his undivided attention because for him at that moment, you were sure you were the only one in the room.  
In 1976, at the invitation of his father, John I. Johns, Mike joined the Rotary Club of Hillcrest where he twice served as Club President (in 1980-81 and 2001-02). He continued to serve with honor and distinction as District 663 Governor in 1986-1987 which later became District 6630.   He was then elected to a two-year term on the Rotary International Board of Directors (2007-2009) and represented RI Presidents at numerous District Conferences and Institutes in several countries around the world.   Mike, most recently, was a member of the Rotary Club of Cleveland.  
He was a multiple Paul Harris Fellow, a Benefactor of The Rotary Foundation, and a Level-3 member of the Bequest Society.   Mike served as a national advisor for the Permanent Fund of The Rotary Foundation (today known as the Endowment Fund) and had been a Zone leadership trainer, a leadership development trainer for District 6630, and a voting delegate to three Rotary International Councils on Legislation.  Mike Co-chaired with PDG Dave Skrzynski, the District 6630 Centennial Celebration in 2016 dedicated to honoring the 100th Anniversary of The Rotary Foundation, founded by Clevelander, our own Past Rotary International President Arch C. Klumph.  Mike was also a member of The Rotary Foundation Centennial Speakers Bureau.  
His belief in the eradication of polio “so that no child would ever experience this deadly and paralyzing disease ever again” was unwavering.  The NID’s (National Immunization Days) he would say he had the privilege of participating in, both in India and Nigeria where he was able to administer the life-saving polio vaccine to the babies and children, were some of the most defining moments of his entire Rotary career.   
Mike lived Rotary’s tenet, Service Above Self, throughout his life, a life which also truly epitomized Rotary’s 4-Way Test, always leading with integrity and with grace.   Most don’t know that he sometimes drove new Rotarians to visit different Rotary Clubs so they could truly understand the impact Rotary could have on their lives with so many opportunities for service to those less fortunate and the friendships that would follow with like-minded people. He believed in the Family of Rotary, long before it was fashionable, and time and time again we have heard about the influence he had on so many people who felt so fortunate to have called him “their friend” - here and around the world. 
In 2009, then District Governor John Bosco created the “Michael J. Johns Lifetime Achievement Award” with 12 Rotarians to date having received this distinguished honor, including Mike himself in 2015.   A recent recipient, PDG Bob Johnson, shared that “Mike’s words spoke from this trophy of things like leadership, humility, integrity, empathy and more, but the most meaningful of all was the word - friend.”
That Mike passed away on Rotary’s Birthday - World Understanding and Peace Day - was a fitting tribute to this incredible humanitarian who has left a lasting legacy through his and his wife’s, the late Nicolette “Nikki” Johns, six children, fourteen grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.  He was so moved when a Water Well was dedicated to Nikki’s memory in Nigeria.     The last fourteen years of his life Mike shared with his fiancé Carol Keck, providing both of them with treasured extended families and the opportunity to travel and enjoy life, always making new friends along the way.  
During the Celebration of Life service, the many facets of Mike’s life were beautifully woven together in the homily when the priest used the history of the Rotary wheel to connect the main ingredients of Mike’s life - family, faith, career and service.  
To quote Mike, Jr. (third generation Rotarian) from the exquisite eulogy he delivered at his father’s service:  “Dad took Will Roger’s words ‘A stranger is just a friend I have not yet met’ to a whole new level.   The smile that came to his face when greeting a friend, old or new, would warm your heart like no other.”  And later he shared “My Dad, our Dad, or ‘Mr. Rotary’ as so many people called him, left the world a better place like few other people could, just by being himself.”
Last Friday evening at the opening banquet of All Ohio PETS in Columbus, Rotary International President-Elect Stephanie Urchick paid tribute to the memory of two past RI Directors who had recently passed away, Theodore “T.D.” Griley from the Rotary Club of Newark, OH/District 6690 and our own Mike, who had been a close friend of hers for many years.   She shared stories of past Rotary friendships, events, and wisdom Mike had imparted, and closed her remembrances by sharing a quote which appeared on something Mike gave her after his wife Nikki passed away in 2007.  It was a small smooth granite stone that said “when someone you love goes away, you’re left with memories and those memories become your treasure.”  
Michael J. Johns, Sr. was everyone’s treasure. 
The District has created a photo library archive in honor of Mike.
If you have photos you would like added, please email them as attachments to us by clicking here