Former Round Lake Heights police chief dies at 78

  • Longtime Round Lake Heights Police Chief Don Johnson poses next to a Volkswagen Beetle he would drive in parades to promote the local D.A.R.E. anti-drug program. Johnson, who retired in 2011, died last week at 78.

    Longtime Round Lake Heights Police Chief Don Johnson poses next to a Volkswagen Beetle he would drive in parades to promote the local D.A.R.E. anti-drug program. Johnson, who retired in 2011, died last week at 78. courtesy of Paul Johnson

 
 
Updated 1/11/2022 5:52 PM

Don Johnson, who led the Round Lake Heights Police Department for 17 years with a passion for the job and a sense of humor, died Thursday at his home. He was 78.

Johnson started working as a police officer in Libertyville in 1967 and became chief in Round Lake Heights in 1994.

 

When he arrived, the Round Lake Heights Police Department had only two full-time officers and operated from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. By the time he retired in 2011, the department had four full-timers and seven part-timers and became a round-the-clock operation.

"I'll miss it every day," Johnson told the Daily Herald for a story on his retirement. "It's one of those jobs I really looked forward to going to when I got out of bed."

Paul Johnson said his father always wanted to help people and excelled as a police officer because of it. He said his dad had a big personality who always had a smile on his face.

"People would always tell me, 'I loved seeing your dad because I knew he was going to make me laugh,'" Paul Johnson said Tuesday.

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Don Johnson said in 2011 that it helped to have a sense of humor in his line of work.

"Being a police officer is a hard job, sometimes a thankless job, but you just need to keep doing whatever you can to help people," he said. "I really have enjoyed every single day of it."

One example of his sense of humor mixing with his police work is when he decided to have a Volkswagen Beetle painted like a police car so he could drive it in parades and promote the local D.A.R.E. anti-drug program.

"He loved that car," Paul Johnson said. "I made him a CD of the 'Cops' theme and he would blast it the whole parade on a loop."

Paul Johnson said he remembers how excited his dad was when he first got the job as chief.

"He couldn't wait to tell everyone," Paul Johnson said. "It was the first thing out of his mouth."

A visitation for Johnson will be held from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday followed by the funeral service at the Kristan Funeral Home, 219 West Maple Ave. in Mundelein. The interment will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Ascension Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum, 1920 Buckley Road in Libertyville.

Paul Johnson said he heard the old VW Beetle police car will be at the wake on Wednesday.

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