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New center to honor Johnson’s decades of law enforcement work

By Katherine Wartell

For 34 years, or approximately half his life, Alvan Johnson worked in law enforcement in Riley County.

To honor his service, the Riley County Law Enforcement Center was being dedicated in his name Friday afternoon.  It will now be known as the Alvan D. Johnson Law Enforcement Center.

Johnson, known familiarly as Al, spent 22 years as director of the Riley County Police Department before retiring in January 2000. To date, Johnson has held the position longer than any other director.

During that time, he fought for construction of the new law enforcement center as the department out-grew the old center at Sixth and Colorado Street. As it turned out, the department did not move into the new center until just after Johnson’s retirement.

“I’m surprised and honored,” Johnson said of the dedication, which came about at the suggestion of two friends, retired Col. Gary LaGrange and former County Attorney Bill Kennedy.

Others are not as surprised, including the Riley County Police Department’s present director, Brad Schoen, who worked under Johnson for 16 years. He said Johnson succeeded in being both a good leader and a good person, and said he set the tone for the department’s future.

Schoen was scheduled to speak at the dedication ceremony along with Kennedy and county commissioner Dave Lewis.

By many accounts, Johnson was a well-liked, fair director who held the department up to high standards. Under his leadership, the department became the first in the state of Kansas to be nationally accredited.

Police Capt. Kurt Moldrup, who worked for many years under Johnson, echoed Schoen’s words on Johnson’s professionalism.

“His influence on me personally as a young officer and supervisor was significant and I am indebted to him,” Moldrup said. “It is very fitting that the Law Enforcement Center be named in honor of him and I am proud to work here and be a part of what he has done.”

Born in Riley County, Johnson began his career in law enforcement with the Manhattan Police Department in 1966 as a patrol officer. Johnson had already served stateside three years in the Army and was simultaneously attending Wichita State University seeking a degree in administration of justice.

When the department consolidated with the Ogden Police Department and the Riley County Sheriff’s Office in 1974, Johnson was promoted to assistant director. By 1978, and before he had even turned 35, he was director.

Some people thought he was too young, “but I just ignored it,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Long-time friend Wayne Anderson, the sheriff of Riley County at the time of consolidation, said Johnson was very thorough about every action he took. “He got along well with everyone and he was fair with everyone,” he said.

Though the job had its stresses, Johnson said those years were the happiest of his life.

It was on the job that he met his wife of nearly 24 years, Kristin, known familiarly as Kris.

Kris had moved to Manhattan from Des Moines, Iowa, to work with the Riley County Community Corrections as a victim assistance coordinator.

They met on March 6, 1985. “I do know exactly when I met him,” Kris said. They were friends for a few years until the end of December 1989 when they started dating.

In typical Al Johnson fashion, Kris said Johnson, an avid hunter, asked her whether she wanted to help him take his deer stands down for their first date. She obliged, and approximately three months later, on March 7, 1989, they were married.

Both were divorced parents of two. Johnson had a son and daughter, Rick and Penny, from his first marriage, while Kris had two boys, Kevin and Michael.

Although his children were already having children of their own by time they married, Kris’ children were only 10 and 13, so Johnson found himself once again raising adolescents. “He’s been a wonderful, wonderful dad to my boys,” Kris said.

Kris has already moved to Ozark, Mo., to be near Michael, his wife Melissa, and their 9-month-old daughter. Kris said Johnson is just “crazy about” her first grandchild. Johnson will join her in mid-January following completion of his term on the Riley County Commission.

Johnson came to the Commission in January of 2001, being elected to the second district seat. He was re-elected in 2004 and 2008. 

Kris hopes his move to Ozark will mean a real retirement for Johnson, where he can pursue his hobbies. Maybe then, she said, he’ll have time to play the large collection of guitars he has acquired over the years.

While the couple is selling their Manhattan home, Johnson said they are keeping about 65 acres north of Randolph, where he built a hunting cabin. Kris said that facility has no electricity or running water.

The land also houses a scaled-down version of Lewis and Clark’s Fort Clatsop, an encampment in Oregon used during that duo’s 1805 expedition of exploration. The replica was built by John McPherson, a noted local survivalist, for a show called the Big Build on the History Channel and used timber from the Johnsons’ land.

Boy Scout and other groups occasionally tour the replica.

Though the Johnsons are moving away from Manhattan, Kris said she doesn’t see it as goodbye. “(Manhattan) is a part of our very fabric of who we are,” she said. “We’re just taking a new adventure.”

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