March 16, 1998
Wyandotte Distinguished Graduate

Johnson, Denise (Reinka) - 1965
Whitwell, John Lee - 1960


Denise (Reinka) Johnson - Class of 1965


Denise (Reinka) Johnson has distinguished herself professionally as a lawyer, a judge, and currently, as an Associate Justice of the Vermont State Supreme Court.

As a student at Roosevelt High School, Ms. Johnson laid the basis for her career. She co-edited the Wy-News and the school yearbook, earning her the honor of Quill and Scroll Membership. She was also a member of the National Honor Society, the World As A Community Class, and participated in Student Government Day.

From Roosevelt, Ms. Johnson went on to Wayne State University, earning a Bachelor's Degree in English in 1969. In 1974, she earned her law degree, with honors, from the University of Connecticut; in 1995, she earned a Master's Degree in Law (LLM) from the University of Virginia.

Justice Johnson's career as an attorney, both in private practice and in the Attorney General's Office, led to her 1990 appointment to the Vermont Supreme Court. She is the first woman in Vermont's history to hold this position.

As a lawyer and a judge, Justice Johnson has worked to improve the legal profession and the community. She has been a planner and presenter of Continuing Legal Education Programs for the Vermont Bar Association on employment law, human rights, appellate practices, and state constitutionalism.

As a judge, her public activities have focused on improving the administration of justice. Justice Johnson chaired the Gender Bias Implementation Committee, which was successful in putting the recommendations of the Gender Bias Task Force into practice. She currently chairs the Equal Access to Justice Committee which is working to eliminate barriers that are suffered by people of color, those that speak a foreign language, or those unable to afford legal representation.

Justice Johnson has also taken a leadership role in increasing the level of pro bono participation in the Vermont Volunteer Lawyers Project, a program that provides free legal counsel for eligible clients in civil cases. She chaired the Successful Advisory Committee on Gender Inclusive Language in the constitution, which after public hearings, ultimately recommended to the Supreme Court that Gender Neutral Amendments be submitted to a vote of the people of Vermont. The proposition passed.

In 1995 and 1996, Justice Johnson was a participant in a colloquy exploring the Ethical, Legal, Social Implications of the Human Genome Project, conducted by the Virginia Health Policy Center at the University of Virginia. This provided a select group of judges and journalists the opportunity to learn the historical and scientific background of genetic issues that are likely to arise in their work and to debate the underlying ethical considerations of scientific research.

Justice Johnson's contributions to her profession were recognized by her peers in 1997 when she was elected to the American Law Institute, on the basis of her professional achievement and demonstrated interest in the improvement of law.

Justice Johnson and her husband Thomas Wies are the proud parents of two children and reside in Middlesex, Vermont.

John Lee Whitwell - Class of 1960


John L. Whitwell has distinguished himself in the field of music as a nationally renowned educator, clinician, conductor, adjudicator, and author.

At Roosevelt High School, John L. Whitwell matured into a fine musician as a member of the Symphonic and Marching Bands. He was elected student president of the band, and was recognized for his leadership and assistance at the summer band and orchestra workshops at the National Music Camp in Interlochen.

John L. Whitwell began his college training at Michigan Christian College in Rochester, and in 1962 received the Associate of Arts Degree. John earned his Bachelor of Music Education in 1965 from Abilene Christian University in Texas and the Master of Music Degree from the University of Michigan in 1975.

John began his teaching career in 1965 in the Northwest Public Schools of Jackson, Michigan. He held positions at all levels from elementary through high school as an instrumental music teacher.

From 1975-1981, Mr. Whitwell served at Huron High School in Ann Arbor as Director of Bands and Music Department Chairman. Huron High School is considered the premier high school band director position in the state.

In 1987, Mr. Whitwell began his college work with an appointment as Associate Professor of Music at Abilene Christian University in Texas. He served as Director of Bands and Conductor of the Symphonic Orchestra. It was during this period in Mr. Whitwell's career that he was recognized , both nationally and internationally, as an outstanding guest conductor, clinician, adjudicator, and music educator.

In 1987, John Whitwell accepted a position at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, where he served as Director of Bands and was promoted to Professor of Music. Professor John L. Whitwell returned to Michigan in 1993, accepting the position of Director of Bands at Michigan State University, East Lansing. In addition to his work with the fine symphonic and marching bands, John Whitwell serves as Professor of Music and Chair of the Conducting Area at the University.

Professor John Whitwell has appeared at and participated in hundreds of music conferences, state and national music association meetings, and music workshops throughout the United States and several foreign countries -- including England, France, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Mexico. John Whitwell is a renowned lecturer, guest conductor, clinician, and adjudicator at music festivals and competitions. His writings appear in music journals and National Music Association publications. John serves on numerous State and National Band and Orchestra Associations.

John was honored by the citizens of Wyandotte by being named Co-Marshall of the Wyandotte Christmas Parade in November of 1997. John and wife, Carole, make their home in Okemos, Michigan.