CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Friends and family of John Cleo “Bud” Johnson Jr. all say the same thing.
He was “popular,” and he cared about Champaign-Urbana.

Johnson, a community leader, was honored Saturday at a place he loved. The celebration of his life drew a crowd to the Douglass Center.

“That means everything. Bud was a big part of the community. Working here at Douglass – a lot of the young people knew him and respected him, and Bud respected the young people,” his sister, Ella Coleman said.

“Bud spent more time here at this center than he did at home,” fellow drummer Chuck McClendon said. He said Johnson taught him everything he knows about drumming, and it paid off when they took first place in a 1968 national competition in New York City.

“Anytime you hear drums in the park, everybody starts coming to the streets to hear them. So they will never forget Bud,” Douglass Drill Team majorette Linda Trumbull Brown said. She competed with the team in their winning year.

Bud Johnson is best remembered for his passion for the drum corps and his impact on those who played alongside him decades ago.

“Marching in that parade – it made me develop into the person I am today. Being a kid and experiencing something that big with lots of people making you feel important in a positive setting, it develops you as an adult,” Brown said.

Dozens gathered at the Douglass Center Saturday to honor Johnson’s life and legacy. He died last fall, and they wanted to give him a proper goodybe.

“Him not being here… many of them [his friends] carry on some of the lessons that Bud taught. Every time he’d come back somebody would remind him of what he had done for them,” Coleman said.

Many shared special memories from the 1968 national competition. Johnson powered through an illness to lead the drummers to winning the first place trophy.

“They went through that parade like they were number one. And they were number one. They played them drums,” Brown said.

To Johnson, the Douglass Center was more than just a home to the drum corps. He followed in his father’s footsteps as the assistant director. Many commmunity members saw him as a mentor, and someone who supported them through sports, academics and so much more.

“He always created some type of activity for us so that we wouldn’t be out here just helter-skelter. I miss him dearly. I miss him dearly,” McClendon said.

Johnson wrote a book about the history of the Douglass Center. It can be found at the Urbana Free Library.