The Wabash community this week lost one of its greatest and best-known supporters, Remington “The Big Cookie” Johnston ’55, who passed away on February 18, 2023, at age 89.
Johnston was born in Ossian, Indiana, in 1933 and attended Allen High School in Bluffton, Indiana. He came to Wabash in 1951 as a third-generation legacy and majored in political science.
After earning a degree in printing from Carnegie Mellon University, he lived in Dallas for eight years working for the Harris-Seybold Printing Machinery Company. He returned to Indiana in 1964 and immediately began donating his time back to the College. He lived in Fort Wayne and owned the Johnston Printing Company in Bluffton.
It was his printing that first earned him popularity among the Wabash community. Before every major sporting event, Johnston printed car bumper stickers which always began with his signature slogan, “The Big Cookie says…”
Johnston’s stickers were a staple of Wabash athletics culture in the late ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, and have become something of a cult icon. Some of the finest examples included “Flush the Johnnies” (St. John’s College) “Bash the Britons” (Albion College) and “Tiger tail is easy to get” (DePauw).
“When we won the National Championships in ’82, he made amazing bumper stickers,” said former Head Basketball Coach Mac Petty H’82. “He helped me in so many ways. In recruiting for basketball, for example, he made custom letterheads and envelopes so that when our prospects got them in the mail, they wouldn’t just be generic. He used his printing company for all kinds of things.”
But while it was his stickers that put his name on the map, it was his philanthropy and kind-heartedness that earned him the eternal respect of students, coaches, and administrators alike. For example, the Big Cookie got his nickname from passing out batches of cookies to student-athletes traveling to away contests. And oftentimes, Johnston would arrive at away games before the team to check everyone in, arrange room keys and, of course, hand out snacks.
Demonstrating such dedicated support, it didn’t take long for the Big Cookie to earn a reputation as one of the Little Giants’ biggest helping hands.
“I don’t think you could find a non-Wabash employee who has positively affected so many Wabash men,” said Steve Hoffman ’85, who worked with Johnston both as a student and, later, as a coach for the Wabash football team. “He was probably one of the wisest men I‘ve ever met. If you were down, he could make you feel better. He read people like nobody‘s business. And he would say things in the Rem way. Whatever he said carried a lot of weight.”
Johnston was awarded several of the College’s top honors. He was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997 for his support of the College athletics department, served a term on the College’s Board of Trustees and, in 2018, was awarded an honorary doctorate. On top of that, in 2018 the College also named the campus gateway in his honor.
As a student and alumnus, Johnston was a loyal brother of Sigma Chi. Over the years, he recruited hundreds of students from Fort Wayne to come to Wabash and rush Sigma Chi. As a result, in 2022, he was awarded the Order of Constantine, the national chapter’s highest honor.
One of Johnston’s lasting legacies was the creation of the Big Cookie Athletic Spirit Fund. Established with the help of Hoffman and Jim Amidon ’87, the Fund promotes student spirit across the athletics department. It is just one of the many ways that Johnston’s philanthropy continues to influence generations of Wabash men.
“Rem portrayed many characteristics of what we would all want a Wabash man to graduate with,” said former Head Football Coach Greg Carlson. “He was a friend and a mentor. He was kind, he was generous, and he was open. Rem didn‘t hold back, and I think he showed a lot of student-athletes that came to the program what it was like to be a good person.”
As well as helping guide student-athletes through their times at Wabash, Johnston was close personal friends with and mentors to an entire generation of Little Giants athletic coaches. The Big Cookie’s influence was felt across the athletics department, but nowhere more so than on the sidelines of the football field where he assisted coaches Frank Navarro, Stan Parrish, Carlson and their many assistants.
“Despite never coaching himself, he was such a mentor for our coaches,” said Hoffman. “He was just wise about life and people. And even though he never coached a game, he had close connections with players, admin and coaches.”
On top of his philanthropic efforts, Johnston was also a keen photographer. He would often be seen at football games with a camera around his neck. He then compiled the photos he took, had them developed, and sent them to players and their parents.
When he wasn’t at Wabash, Johnston loved to golf, despite only getting into the game later in life. He was a member of the Orchard Ridge Country Club in Fort Wayne, and in 2016, Wabash alumni and friends gathered at Orchard Ridge for the first Big Cookie Athletics Spring Fund Golf Outing, which has since become an annual College event.
A Celebration of Life service will be held at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Wayne. The date has yet to be determined.
Johnston was Some Little Giant, and will be greatly missed by those students, staff, and coaches he spent so many years supporting. He was a friend to many, a mentor to those who trusted him, and a role model for all.