John Cleo "Snapper" Johnson, Sr.
John Cleo Snapper Johnson, Sr. was born in Fernwood, Mississippi on March 26, 1916. He was the son of Arthur and Gladys (Tillman) Johnson. He was fondly called "Snapper" by family and friends. “Snapper” moved to Champaign in 1922. He attended Champaign schools and was a member of the Champaign Senior High School Letterman's "C" Club. After serving in the Navy during WWII, he attended the University of Illinois where he majored in Recreation and Physical Education.
Before becoming a Letter Carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, "Snapper" worked for many years as a laborer and helped with the building of several major construction projects in the Champaign-Urbana area, including the U of I Assembly Hall.
Over the years, he was involved in the community in many ways. His enjoyment of baseball as recreation led to his enjoyment of it as a way of life. He became involved throughout east central Illinois as a baseball player for numerous teams. After his playing days ended, he continued to stay involved in baseball and basketball as both an umpire and referee. He also participated in organizing a boxing club in Champaign and the surrounding area. He was especially interested in youth sports and recreation. During the 1950s, he served as Assistant Director of the Frederick Douglass Recreation Center and taught Physical Education in the Champaign public schools. He served as a Little League Coach and official for over 30 years from the 50s to the 80s. He was also a past Commander of the American Legion Post #559 and served as Scout Master for Boy Scout Troop #11, one of the first all-Black troops in Champaign.
His sons and grandsons have often recalled that he was the "toughest coach they ever played for." During his coaching and officiating days, even when players and parents did not agree with him, they frequently commented on their respect for him due to his fairness and his ability to keep "control" of the game.
“Snapper” was married to Helen Elizabeth Scaggs for 39 years until her death in 1976. Together they raised six children: two sons and four daughters, John Jr. (Bud) of Yuma, AZ Kenneth of Atlanta, GA, Carol Lynn Nunn, Catherine Hogue, Ella (Sissy) Knox Coleman of Champaign, and Rosalind Lewis of Urbana.
"Snapper's" love for people and his unselfish giving to the community has influenced the lives of his children in many ways. His love for sports has extended over to both of his sons and has helped to shape and influence their careers.
John Cleo “Snapper” Johnson, Sr. passed away on May 8, 1983.