Herbert F. Johnson, 66, of Pitman, a lifelong educator who served as superintendent of the Lindenwold public schools from 1994 to 2000, died Tuesday, Dec. 11, of a heart ailment while swimming in the Gloucester County Institute of Technology pool, his morning ritual for 20 years.
When Mr. Johnson assumed the helm of the small school system, consisting then of three elementaries, he was handed the state-mandated task of reassigning students to achieve racial balance.
"Many parents weren't real pleased with him over that," said his wife, Sally.
But from a stormy start, he went on to usher his schools into the technology age, including getting computers into classrooms.
In his last two years as superintendent, he laid the foundation for the district's expansion to K-12 by planning the new Lindenwold High School; it opened in 2001, after his departure.
Mr. Johnson was born in Camden and raised in Woodbury, where he graduated from high school in 1964. He received a bachelor's degree in biology at Gettysburg College in 1968. Two years of ROTC set him on the road to the Army and Vietnam. His service as a field artillery officer from 1968 to 1970 earned him two Bronze Stars, one with a "V" for valor, and one oak leaf cluster.
In 1972, he began teaching science at Oaktree Elementary School in Monroe Township and coaching high school wrestling. After six years, he changed course toward administration, becoming principal of Lindenwold School No. 5, then assistant superintendent for finance and curriculum for all three elementaries in 1990, and superintendent in 1994.
Along the way, he got a master's degree in environmental education in 1973 and a second in school administration in 1980 from Glassboro State College, now Rowan University.
After leaving the Lindenwold schools, Mr. Johnson spent two years as executive director of the Educational Information and Resource Center, a nonprofit agency that runs training programs for teachers and administrators, who have access to educational materials that fill part of the Mullica Hill facility.
From 2002 until his death, he headed his own education consulting business, doing feasibility studies for schools that, for instance, were considering making major changes such as regionalization and resource-sharing.
As a member of the Gloucester County Workforce Investment Council, Mr. Johnson helped link at-risk teens and young adults with education, training, and jobs.
In the early 1980s, as one of the first members of the Pitman Environmental Commission, he helped compile the data that led the EPA to add the 16-acre Lipari Landfill site in Mantua to the Superfund National Priorities List.
In what passed for spare time, Mr. Johnson turned himself into a skilled woodworker "by reading a lot, practicing a lot, and acquiring quite a lot of tools," his wife said. He made the family's dining room set and, most recently, a blanket chest and toy chest for the children.
His pieces, she said, were the mainstay of their Christmas gift-giving.
In addition to his wife of 41 years, Mr. Johnson is survived by a daughter, Amy; a son, Jeffrey; two grandchildren; and two sisters.
Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, at the Budd Funeral Home, 522 Salem Ave., Woodbury, followed by a memorial service at 11. A private interment will be scheduled later.