An Ongoing Inspiration for All

An Ongoing Inspiration for All

The John Wilson Paulsen Memorial Scholarship is named in memory of beloved son and brother, John Wilson Paulsen. John was on his way to completing a degree in Applied Science and Counseling from Kansas City, Kansas Community College before he unexpectedly died May 18, 2019. His dream was to help others living with addiction.

John knew first-hand the devastating effects of drug and alcohol addiction. He wrestled with these demons for many years. He spent time in and out of jail and numerous drug rehab facilities. His relationships with family and friends were torn apart.

Despite John’s struggles, his life story is one of hope. Three years before he died, John overcame his addiction and was winning at life. He had returned to college to earn a degree, mended relationships, was working full-time and had big dreams for his future.

John would want others facing addiction to never give up and to always have hope.

John was born Oct. 18, 1983 and was a life-long resident of the Kansas City area. He attended Shawnee Mission East High School where he graduated among the top of his class.  He was on the school’s cross country and track team that went to the Kansas state championships. He was proud that he broke the 4:30 mile.

john participating in a meet for shawnee mission east high school

One of his proudest achievements was earning his Eagle Scout, the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouts of America, while still in middle school. He attended Montana State University in Bozeman.

Growing up, John loved time with family, especially summers at Pelican Lake in Minnesota and spring-break ski trips in Keystone, Colorado. He was an accomplished snow skier and water skier, an avid reader, and a KU Jayhawk fan. He also loved to cook.

John made friends easily and could carry on conversations with people of all ages on many varied topics. He made everyone he met feel special. He quietly lent a hand whenever needed, and he was always willing to take on a leadership role both at work and in his personal life.

He played an instrumental role in rehabbing the Oxford House where he lived. He encouraged the other residents and they all admired him. Even though many of the residents were much older than John, they looked up to him for his leadership. An Oxford House in Independence, Mo., is named the John Paulsen Oxford House.

John was a dear, sweet soul. He was a peacekeeper and never judged anyone. John never gave up and was committed to helping others win at life.

He was proud to be successfully working toward his degree. It gave him a sense of purpose and self-worth. This is why John’s family created this scholarship for those seeking a degree in Applied Science and Counseling. It is our hope that the recipients of this endowment will be encouraged by John’s story and that his legacy will live on in others for years to come.

Written by Hannah Cunningham, John’s sister.

One of John’s instructors at KCKCC, Michael James wanted to share the following:

As I reflect on John’s untimely passing, I see a tremendous loss not only to those that knew him but also to our greater community.  John was a very diligent student who was never afraid to challenge an instructor or peer. He was always active in class either through active discussion with peers or through assignments.  John was inspirational to those who met him. He was open to sharing his story and the journey he was on toward a healthy recovery.   In the time I knew John, I found him inspirational as it is not all that often that I get to work with someone so committed to his recovery and to repairing a life that had been impacted by addiction. John was on the path to becoming an exceptional counselor for those with substance abuse issues.  I was never worried about his commitment to recovery and his ability to succeed in his future endeavors as a professional substance abuse counselor. The recovery community lost an incredible voice and budding advocate.  It is with great appreciation and humility that I acknowledge his family’s wishes for his memory and passion to help others to live on through assisting future students in their journey to becoming counselors.  

Michael James  MS  LCAC LCP LPC, KCKCC Addiction Instructor/Coordinator

John’s family has recently established the John Wilson Paulsen Memorial Scholarship through the KCKCC Foundation. The first scholarship in John’s name will be awarded in the Fall and will be for students enrolled in the Addiction Counseling Program at KCKCC. Preference will be given to those who have experienced incarceration and who are in or have experienced recovery. For more information on the scholarship or how to donate to the John Wilson Paulsen Memorial Scholarship, please call 913-288-7353 or email

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