If you look in the phone book you'll find that Johnson is a pretty common name.
But the Johnson surname, specifically when it is preceded by the initials P.K., can also be found scattered generously throughout the pages of Belleville history.
Preston King Johnson II, who lived from 1885-1955, was a prominent lawyer and also served as Belleville mayor from 1919-21. His son, P.K. Johnson III, who lived from 1915-1997, was Belleville's city attorney during two different stints. Both were known as formidable trial lawyers and political power brokers in the local Republican Party.
P.K. Johnson IV, 69, followed in his namesakes' footsteps by becoming a successful lawyer in the area as did his eldest son, P.K. Johnson V, 44. But neither of the surviving P.K.s have chased their predecessors' political aspirations.
"I never had any political ambitions," Johnson IV said. "That just didn't interest me. But I've been very interested in the law. At one time I was practicing, my dad was practicing and my son was practicing. I'm very proud of that."
P.K. Johnson II was a very serious man who was feared by other attorneys for his courtroom prowess, Johnson IV remembered of his grandfather. When Johnson III would try cases, even after he had become an accomplished attorney in his own right, Johnson II would sit behind him in the first row of the courtroom gallery and offer biting critiques.
"My grandfather was strict. Very discipline-oriented," Johnson IV said. "He always called my dad "Johnson" like he was just another employee in the firm. "Why did you do that, Johnson? Why didn't you do this, Johnson?"
His idea of fun was to drive his grandson out into the country, pull the car over and put his face in his hands, pretending to cry. When asked what was the matter, he'd tell the youngster that they were hopelessly lost and that they'd never be able to go home again.
It was a game Johnson IV said he didn't care to play.
Johnson III was a much more accessible fellow, his son said.
"My dad was very different than that," Johnson IV said. "He was my best friend."
Johnson IV remembered when he was a kid that his dad would take him to St. Louis Cardinals games on afternoons. When Johnson III went to night games that were too late for his son, Johnson IV would wake up to find a bag of peanuts from the ballpark and a meticulously filled out scorecard which the father and son would go over the next day to relive the exploits of Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter.
"I thought that was pretty neat," Johnson IV said.
Johnson IV said he grew up around Belleville politics and remembers hearing his father and grandfather talk about political wheelings and dealings in his early years.
In 1948, when Johnson IV was only about 4 years old, his grandfather hosted a meeting of local political leaders at his home on Wabash Avenue to select the Better Belleville Party's ticket for the 1949 election ballot. Toward the end of the meeting, a discussion started about who to name to put on the ballot for one of the lowest-profile races: police magistrate.
Johnson II proposed the name of Alan Dixon, a young law school student who lived across the alleyway in his east Belleville neighborhood. Dixon would go on to work his way up the political ladder all the way to United States senator.
While the Johnsons were Republicans, Dixon, when he graduated from city level politics, stayed true to his family's roots and was a Democrat. But Johnson IV said there was never any resentment on the part of Republican power brokers, even though they helped to make an up-and-coming politician who would turn out to be a formidable political opponent in later years.
"I don't think they were disappointed when he became a Democrat," Johnson IV said. "I don't think when they put him on the ticket to be police magistrate that they had any idea about his politics. They put him on the ticket because he was a young, bright man. He was well thought of. Alan Dixon worked in the family law firm until 1955."
Johnson IV said the bonds between his family and Dixon spanned the years and the political fence. He was close with the former senator, with whom he served on the Allsup, Inc. board of directors, for the last decade of Dixon's life.
Dixon would go on to win 29 straight elections spanning 43 years before losing in the Democratic Primary when he ran for re-election to the Senate in 1992. He passed away last month -- a day before his 87th birthday.
"He would always tell me, 'It was your grandpa who got me into politics,'" Johnson IV remembered of Dixon.
Johnson III's first stint as city attorney would start about the same time that Dixon won his first election. It was a day in which Johnson IV remembers more for an odd occurrence than for its historical significance.
"I remember that morning I looked out the window and there was a mule in our yard eating the grass," Johnson IV said. "I wanted to know why there was a mule in our yard. But my dad was very excited, reading the paper about H.V. Calhoun winning the election to become mayor.
"He was saying 'We won! We won!,'" Johnson IV said. "'I'm going to be city attorney."
Johnson IV said he couldn't recall why the mule was in the family's yard. But he said it was a coincidence, not a political statement made in the wake of the mayoral election.
When he wasn't watching his father and grandfather's political dealings in Belleville, Johnson IV said he kept himself busy with a number of activities in his neighborhood.
Johnson IV said in the days before television was prevalent, kids got outside and played more than they did today.
Next to his parents' home on South Douglas Avenue in east Belleville was a vacant lot where neighborhood kids built a clubhouse. They also gathered for highly organized softball games, usually three contests a day. The score and records were meticulously kept. Johnson IV said one of his personal sports highlights was leading the softball league in home runs.
After games the ballplaying crew would walk or ride their bikes to Johnny Meyer's Tavern where they'd belly up to the bar and, to the amusement of the bar's more typical customers, they'd order "a fifth of red soda." Then they'd drink so much that they'd get a belly ache, he said.
While the ballgames were good natured, sometimes seemingly inconsequential neighborhood beefs would erupt into "wars" dividing Belleville neighborhoods.
Johnson IV said when there was a disagreement between the kids who lived on one street and those who lived a couple of blocks over, the BB guns and stink bombs would be rounded up.
"We'd throw a stink bomb in their clubhouse and they'd throw one in ours," Johnson IV said. "But it was all in fun. Nobody got hurt."
When kids wanted to have some indoor entertainment in those days, Johnson IV said they'd walk downtown to the Lincoln or Ritz theaters, where they could watch serials for free on Tuesdays.
"We'd get kicked out for being loud and my dad would get so mad," Johnson IV said. "I remember him telling me that it's lower than low to get thrown out of the movies."
Another neighborhood tradition was putting on backyard plays director by Johnson IV's sister, Judy.
"She'd make us practice every day and we'd use the swing set to hang a curtain over the stage," Johnson IV said. "About 30 people would show up to watch us. We'd have an intermission and everything."
By the time 1971 rolled around, Johnson IV was getting ready to graduate from law school and his father took one last stab at politics, an unsuccessful bid for the Illinois Supreme Court.
"Selfishly, I didn't want him to win because then where would I work?" Johnson IV said. "And I think my mom wanted him home, too. And we did get to work together for many years, which is something that was a very big deal for me."
Johnson IV said he had some opportunities for jobs in other places, but nowhere else had the pull of his home town.
"It's amazing how many people of my generation stayed here," Johnson IV said. "And I don't think that's the case anymore. It's a shame because it's a great place to live and work."
Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-2626.