Eppie Johnson Dies: Founder of Grand Race Charity Triathlon Was 85

Image: Eppie Johnson Dies: Founder of Grand Race Charity Triathlon Was 85

Wednesday, 18 Sep 2013 04:22 PM

By Robin Farmer

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Eppaminondas “Eppie” Johnson, an energetic and colorful Sacramento businessman and philanthropist, died in his sleep Sunday.

The 85-year-old Johnson, who owned a chain of namesake restaurants and started the Eppie’s Grand Race triathlon in 1974, was a beloved community figure.

A lifelong athlete and avid kayaker, Johnson created the triathlon to publicize Eppie’s Restaurants Inc., which were popular family restaurants and coffee shops until he sold the chain in the 1990s.

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Eppie’s Great Race, which is a running, cycling, and paddling competition for charity, draws thousands of spectators and attracts 2,000 participants, including international athletes. The world’s oldest triathlon celebrated its 40th anniversary in July.

For Johnson, the triathlon was an unexpected legacy.

“I thought I’d be known as Eppie, a good restaurant owner,” he told The Sacramento Bee in 2003, “and now I hope I’m remembered as the race founder.”

People with mental and physical challenges are among the beneficiaries of Eppie’s Great Race, which has raised more than $1 million for Sacramento County Therapeutic Recreation Services.

Former county Supervisor Illa Collin recalled how Johnson was a natural showman who thought of clever ways to present the money to county officials each year. Once, he dressed as a superhero. Another year he poured $50,000 in cash and coins on the dais in the Board of Supervisors chambers.

“All of those presentations were covered by television,” Collin Told the Sacramento Bee. “The TV crews absolutely loved Eppie.”

“Eppie had a larger than life personality, and he leaves a lasting legacy that will endure for years to come,” said Will Kempton, former race director and director of the California Department of Transportation, to the Bee.

The Sacramento Business Journal reports the family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Eppie’s Great Race Foundation.

Online posters at the Sacramento Bee praised Johnson for his contributions.

“Eppie did a lot for this community, and leaves behind a worthy legacy. I salute the man.”

Wrote another: “Rest in Peace, Eppie. You were a sunflower in a garden of weeds. The world needs more sunflowers.”

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