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Obituary of Dr. Earnest J. "Earnie" Johnson, 87


Dr. Earnest J. Johnson, 87, passed away on Friday, November 30, 2018 at Emerald Glen Memory Care in Mesa, Arizona.

Earnie was born in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania on February 23, 1931, son of Michael George Johnson and Anna Vaselinky Johnson. He graduated from Phillipsburg High School, Penn State University, and Purdue University. He met his wife of 62 years, Ella Gerlach, at an Ingle-Aires Sunday night dance in Los Angeles when he was working at Hughes Aircraft. Though Ella had her own car, on their first date she insisted they take the bus. He was smitten. After finishing his PhD at Purdue University in 1963, he moved to Lexington, Massachusetts with Ella and their five children. Earnie was employed as a Physicist in the Boston area at MIT Lincoln Laboratory (1963 - 1971) and GTE (1971 - 1982). Three more children were born before Earnie and Ella moved to Mesa Arizona in 1983. Earnie retired from his position as a research physicist at Motorola Solutions in Chandler in 2001.

Earnie’s life was the epitome of the 20th century American dream. His second-generation immigrant father was forced to leave school at 10 years of age to work in the coal mines, but he encouraged his children to aim for more. Following high school graduation, Earnie studied at Penn State, working in a steel mill and a hotel laundry and getting to college each day by hitchhiking from Philipsburg to State College. He went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in Physics at Purdue University. Earnie was committed to his work; he researched LED lighting and fiber optics, and he invented the optical hinge used to join the cover to the base on laptop computers.

Earnie enjoyed camping, hiking, canoeing, and fishing when he lived in Massachusetts. Gardening was his great passion; in Massachusetts he grew every manner of vegetable, and he took great joy when passers-by would complement the flowers in his front yard. In Arizona, he experimented with rose bushes and fruit trees. Earnie was a prolific reader and a staunch Democrat. He was also an enthusiastic Penn State fan, and he loved Larry Bird’s Celtics so much that he bought his first colour television in the 1980s when they won the playoffs--he wanted to be able to see the green uniforms. Earnie was active in the Boy Scouts with his sons, Joe and Tom, and he was renowned for the speed with which he navigated the drive on Boy Scout camping trips. He took his daughters camping, and he taught all his kids how to drive. He perhaps most enjoyed spending time at Black Moshannon State Park in the cabin that he built with his wife, Ella, and his late brother, Leo. Alzheimer’s disease gradually stole away Earnie’s memories, but it also granted him the gift of owning his vulnerability and learning to express his love.

Earnie joins his late son, Michael, who passed on in 1997. He is survived by his brother, Henry Johnson of Indiana, his wife, Ella L. Johnson (Gerlach), and seven children, Joseph Johnson of San Francisco, California, Mary Johnson of Elsa, Illinois, Therese Johnson of Madison, Wisconsin, Thomas Johnson of Stratham, New Hampshire, Suzanne Johnson of Sterling, Massachusetts, Virginia Belich of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Gale Coskan-Johnson of St Catharines, Ontario. He leaves Ella’s cousin, Frank Gumbinger, ten grandchildren, Isidro, Antonio, Robyn, Oliver, Nichole, Alex, David, Meghan, Jeffrey, and Zeynep, and nieces and nephews including Joe and Mike Hess, Judi and Suzy Johnson, Diana Johnson, and Greg, Karen, and Neil Johnson.

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated on Monday, December 10, 2018, at Noon, at Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Church, 400 S. 4th. Street, Philipsburg, with Rev. John Gibbons, celebrant.

Interment will be in Immaculate Conception Catholic Cemetery, Osceola Mills.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the Alzheimer’s Association in Earnie’s memory.

Arrangements are under the direction of the Beezer-Heath Funeral Home, 719 E. Spruce Street, Philipsburg.

Family and friends may sign the online guestbook and share memories at

Name of Deceased

Dr. Earnest J. "Earnie" Johnson



Date of Death


Date of Birth


Funeral Home

Beezer-Heath Funeral Home & Cremation Services

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