Niel Melvin Johnson, Ph.D., is an archivist and historian whose professional career dates back to 1954. Now retired, he concluded his career in December 1992 processing historical materials, including transcripts of more than 50 interviews he conducted for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Mo. Dr. Johnson held this role from 1977 to 1992, during which time he also served as first president of the American Friends of the Emigrant Institute of Sweden, as president of the Scandinavian Association of Greater Kansas City, and sheriff of the Kansas City Posse of the Westerners International. Driven by his passion for uncovering history’s hidden tales, Dr. Johnson rose to prominence from early roles as a teacher in Biggsville, Ill., and as an assistant and then chief historian of the headquarters, U.S. Army Weapons Command, and of Rock Island Arsenal. He also taught at Augustana College in Illinois and at Dana College in Nebraska. Dr. Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree from Augustana College, as well as a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the State University of Iowa.
Born in Galesburg, Ill., in 1931, Dr. Johnson is nationally renowned for spreading “the gospel of Harry Truman.” Though he never formally met the 33rd President of the United States — he was in the audience that attended his speech in Rock Island, Ill., in September 1948, and he photographed him as he approached the stage in the 1962 dedication of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in Iowa — Dr. Johnson has kept President Truman’s spirit alive through riveting impersonations, concluding that role in 2018. Equipped with a 1950’s-style felt and straw hat, wearing a bow tie and double breasted suit, and holding a cane, Dr. Johnson has impersonated the former President more than 700 times since retiring from the Truman Library in 1992.
Drawing from his experience at the Truman Library and extensive reading, Dr. Johnson authored the book: “Power, Money, and Women: Words to the Wise from Harry S. Truman” (1999 and 2007). He also authored “George Sylvester Viereck: German American Propagandist” based on his doctoral dissertation; “Portal to the Plains: A History of Washington County Nebraska” (1974); and co-authored “Rockford Swedes: American Stories” in 1993. He has contributed articles to professional journals and newspapers. Among his awards is a commendation from the Concordia Historical Institute in St. Louis. He has also been featured in several editions of Marquis Who’s Who Publications, such as Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the Midwest.
To remain abreast of activities in field, Dr. Johnson maintains membership in several historical organizations and is currently drafting an account of his quarter-century as an impersonator of President Truman. He was chairman of the Historic Trails City Committee in Independence from 1988 to 1993, served as the coordinator of the New Sweden committee of Greater Kansas City in 1988, and was named first president, in 1984, of the newly established American Friends of the Emigrant Institute of Sweden, Inc., a position he held until 1989. He continues membership in the Scandinavian Association, the Vasa Order of America, the Jackson County Historical Society, the State Historical Society of Missouri, and of various other local historical societies in Illinois and Nebraska.
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