North Platte Community College will lose longtime psychology instructor Dr. Pete Johnson Dec. 31. Johnson has taught psychology for more than five decades – at NPCC, specifically, for the past 20 years.
"I've liked my time here," Johnson said of his decision to retire. "The college has been good to me, but it's time for something new."
Psychology was not the profession Johnson originally intended to pursue. Instead, his plan upon graduating from Iowa City High School in 1952 was to follow in the steps of his grandfather - a medical missionary recognized by the emperor of the Ottoman Empire.
Johnson took classes at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn. and at what is now the University of Nebraska at Kearney before enrolling in medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
"I only lasted about nine months in med school," Johnson said. "I killed my cadaver in lab and decided I better not do that on a live person."
He began teaching as an undergraduate lab instructor his senior year and, because of all the credits he already had, received a bachelor's degree in chemistry.
"I then did one year of grad work but was more interested in watching the other chemists than in actually doing the chemistry, myself," Johnson said.
That's when he decided to switch to psychology.
"I was always interested in behavior, but had never completed a psych course," Johnson said. "I always figured behavior, in some way, was a chemical process. Psychology is the one field that is the closest to what we actually live as a life. It fascinates me how complicated it is, and yet, how simple."
Johnson ended up taking Intro to Psychology through the University of Illinois and was accepted into the school's graduate program. He subsequently began teaching psychology as a grad student in 1966.
Johnson obtained a master's degree in learning theory from the University of Illinois and later also earned a doctorate in behavior genetics. He was part of the university's faculty, teaching child development, during the last four years that he was working toward a PhD.
"I continued teaching on and off over the years," Johnson said. "I was also a consultant with the State of Illinois for a time in various roles related to psychology until I decided to go back for a second master's degree. I earned a master's in counseling from the Lincoln Christian Seminary in Lincoln, Ill. then began doing counseling."
By 2000, Johnson was ready to return to teaching. He had three interview offers, one of which was from NPCC.
"The one at NPCC was the only one I went to," Johnson said. "I'm a pretty serious Christian and I felt led to North Platte. I had been through the community around 1990 on my way to Oregon and had stopped and walked around the pond by the veterans memorial. During the walk, I had an overwhelming feeling that I was going to return to that place someday. The premonition always stuck with me."
Johnson has enjoyed watching his NPCC students grow and succeed over the years. He knows of several who have gone on to receive doctorates of their own.
"Watching students accomplish things, no matter what field they go into, really tickles my fancy," Johnson said. "I always encourage them to have faith and turn it into a purpose and meaning for their lives."
His retirement doesn't mean he will be less busy. Johnson's looking forward to spending more time with his wife and to starting a ministry in North Platte with four of his friends. The group is calling the ministry, "God's Five PRs."