Luke Johnson didn’t get the chance to graduate from Wilson High with his 2018 classmates this month, but his presence was felt.
Johnson, who was a golfer at Wilson, lost his battle with Leukemia in June 2016. In a dedicated effort to maintain his legacy, the Johnson family formed the Luke Tatsu Johnson Foundation last year to raising money for scholarships and childhood cancer cures. Earlier this month, at Wilson’s Baccalaureate ceremony, Todd and Rena Johnson awarded eight Wilson golfers with scholarships in Luke’s name.
“It was bittersweet,” Rena Johnson said. “It was so exciting to see all of Luke’s classmates there to get awards. It was a really good feeling to be a part of that. But of course, we so wish that Luke was there.”
Each senior Wilson golfer attending college got a chance to fill out the application for the memorial scholarship that ended up being $10,000 split between eight recipients. Luke’s long-time friend and teammate Tyler Allen was one of those golfers, and he said the Baccalaureate was an emotional night for everyone.
“He couldn’t be there with us, but I like to think that he was there in spirit,” Allen said. “The scholarship monetarily means a lot to me, no matter how much it is, but to just have the scholarship with Luke’s name means so much more.”
When the Johnsons joined the scholarship recipients on stage in the Wilson Auditorium, the entire Class of 2018 gave them a standing ovation.
“That was the best part of the night,” Wilson golf coach Jeff Evans said. “It’s great that our golfers are getting supported with scholarship money, but more importantly, the foundations that were so important to Luke are going to benefit from the golf tournament as well.”
The Johnson family had originally planned to give $2,000 for scholarships and $5,000 to charity with money raised from a charity golf tournament last year. Instead, they were able to give $10,000 worth of scholarships, and also donate $20,000 to Save Our Sick Kids at Miller Children’s Hospital this month. Save Our Sick Kids specializes in treating the 10% of cancer patients who die from infections as a result of treatment.
“Big charities don’t need us,” Rena Johnson said. “The small, niche organizations who are doing the intense work —that’s where we feel good about making a difference.”
The Johnsons said they plan to continue raising money for Wilson golf scholarships and charities by hosting an annual golf tournament. This year, it is scheduled for Oct. 12 at Recreation Park Golf Course. The 1 p.m. shotgun start will be followed by dinner and music at 6 p.m.
“It’s amazing what they’re doing,” Allen said of the Johnsons and their foundation. “They’re really making sure everyone has a chance to remember who Luke was, because he was a really special kid, and he shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Allen and Johnson attended Lowell Elementary, Rogers Middle School and Wilson High together. Allen said they connected even more on the golf course as freshmen.
“He was always nice to everyone, and everyone seemed like they were his friend,” Allen said. “You never want that to happen to anyone, but especially Luke. He was just the most amazing person you could ever meet.”
Luke’s middle name Tatsu is the sign of the dragon. The Wilson golf, football and baseball teams all had Tatsu patches on their helmets or in their golf bags last year. Among them is Luke’s younger brother, Spencer, who is also playing golf at Wilson. He will be a junior next year.
“He was never the kid who needed center stage,” Rena Johnson said of Luke. “He was easy going, likable, bright and funny. He picked friends who were funny too. They were a silly pack, but he was never the loud one. He was the quiet egger-on.”
Allen and his Wilson teammates were shocked by Johnson’s diagnosis three years ago, and played in his memory last season while winning a second consecutive CIF Southern Section Championship.
“Especially in the big tournaments, I always had him in mind,” Allen said. “Whenever I got frustrated on the golf course, I would think of Luke, and just remember the reason why we wanted to be out there together.”
The Johnsons got involved in cancer charities while Luke battled his disease, and they knew they wanted to do something themselves, as well. Rena said they asked friends to serve on the board of directors, and organized the charity golf tournament without any experience.
“It was a matter of just getting started,” Rena said. “Once we took the first step, it just sort of went. We want to raise money on an ongoing basis.”
No matter how much money the Luke Tatsu Johnson Foundation raises with its golf tournament in the future, his friends and family are making sure Luke’s memory won’t be left in the past.
“I think every time I step on the golf course, I’ll remember Luke and the times that we had,” Allen said.