Elmer Chase Johnson
Chase Johnson was born a talented but mischievous organ player and teacher in Beatrice, Neb., on May 6, 1928. He passed away with minimal theatrics but much focus Elsewhere in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Aug. 5, in 2019. Between these places and dates, Chase lived a quixotic life full of comedy, sanctity and organic musical variety, so to say.
Chase matriculated at the University of Nebraska, where he gamboled through the classrooms with his sidekick, Johnny Carson, joking freely with the professors and entertaining the student body on a radio show they produced together.
He began his adult work life as a pastor of two churches, while still a student in Lincoln. Later, in the U.S. Army, Chase became a chaplain's assistant and enjoyed the women of both Paris and Munich, becoming "A Gentleman of the Continent." In the latter city, he fell in love with the German language and culture, a lifelong preoccupation.
After his discharge from the Army and after procrastinating for some time, which was his habit, he wed Wilma Campbell on Sept. 1, 1962, and adopted her son, Vic Campbell, several years later. With this marriage, Chase's picaresque career accelerated. He took serial positions recruiting students from all over Iowa and Illinois for two Iowa business colleges, proving himself a legendary sales shark.
When life on the road in Iowa and Illinois became tedious, he shifted careers once again, applying his acumen to persuading innocent farmers to buy organs they had no idea how to play, on the basis that organs make fine pieces of furniture.
When he tired of his success in this line of endeavor, Chase and Wilma then teamed up sequentially to run a drive-in movie theater, a motel and a cutlery store. Following this cinematic, hotelier and shopkeeper period, the two decided to retire to Mesa, Ariz. In the desert, Chase restarted an on-again, off-again, sub-textual career teaching others to play organ, and he, as well, played organ in churches there.
Tiring of the Mesa heat, big city life, as well as the lassitude of retirement itself, Chase and Wilma returned to Cedar Rapids, where Chase accepted an offer to provide janitorial services at Geneva Tower and took a position as organist and rabble-rouser at Grace Episcopal Church.
Upon Wilma's passing on May 5, 2006, Chase quit his janitorial exercises and took up still another career, that of volunteer tutor at Garfield School, where he was surprised to be lionized and loved.
His last abode was Northbrook Manor, where he lived for a little over a year, entertaining residents and staff with his public organ playing and irreverent and sometimes scandalous repartee.
We are less without Chase and the world is less amusing, but we are confident that he is snickering down on us, as was his wont.
Chase's memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4, in the chapel at Cedar Memorial on First Avenue in Cedar Rapids. Please come prepared to share your remembrances at the service.