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1928 Fred Johnson 2023

Fred Johnson

March 22, 1928 — December 19, 2023


Fred Arnold Johnson was born at home in rural Wisconsin on March 22, 1928, the youngest of Gustaf and Effeld (Anderson) Johnson’s children, and died in Minneapolis on December 19, 2023.  Fred grew up on a farm, spoiled by older siblings Lloyd, Elsie, and Gladys, and played both basketball and football in high school, sports he enjoyed watching all his life. Fred’s best friend from about the age of 9 was Lester Olson, to whom he felt close all of his life (and near the end of his life, wanted to be sure we included Lester’s wife Peggy in our prayers). Beginning when they were 14, Fred and Lester worked summers in the mills in Minneapolis. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, Fred wanted to join the army, but his father would not sign for him, so he had to wait until he turned 18, leaving for basic training right after graduating from high school.  He served in Japan, doing intelligence work related to Russia, and even 75 years later, would not talk about it for fear of revealing military secrets.  He caught rheumatic fever while in Japan, and his sister Elsie came and cared for him for months as he recovered. 

When his tour of duty ended, Fred returned to Minneapolis to live with his sister Gladys and her husband Johnny as he went to the University of Minnesota on the GI Bill.  Fred’s father suggested he go see the Olson girls (Lester’s sisters), and Fred went to visit Ethel, asking her to go to the musical Oklahoma with him as he left. Ethel was a medical technologist, and they began dating and were soon married by Ethel’s father in Milaca, a marriage that would last them 66 years until Ethel’s death.   Fred graduated from college, and began teaching at University High School as he worked on a PhD in Education, along with two good friends, Lou Walters and Bill Gardner. Fred and Ethel had three children in quick succession, Sheri, Wendy, and Mark.  They lived in a house built by Merle Bloomdahl, Fred’s cousin, who by then had married Ethel’s sister Milly; the families lived only a block apart until Milly and Merle moved to Montana. For many years, the family would go for Sunday dinner after church every week at Fred’s mother’s house, joining his sister Gladys and her family.  Summers they would visit his brother Lloyd on his farm, and help with the haying. When they were in their 40s, Fred and Ethel adopted two children, Michelle and Chris, who brought great joy to them, and to their older siblings.  The whole family trekked several times a year to visit the Bloomdahls in Montana, often camping together there, and even “trading kids” for many summers so that the cousins could spend time together.  

Fred loved reading books and teaching at the University of Minnesota, where he shared an office with his friend Kaye Matsumoto.  His college students, most of them first generation, loved him in return.   After they retired, Fred and Ethel spent many years helping to care for their grandchildren and watching them play sports, especially those in Minneapolis. They often traveled to see Mark and his family in Michigan and Sheri and her family in New York.  Ethel took care of Fred for most of their marriage, but the last year of Ethel’s life, Fred cared for her and made it possible for her to stay at home until her death. Fred missed Ethel terribly for the six years he outlived her, and his often-expressed hope was to be with her again.

Fred is survived by his children Sheri (Jim Henry), Wendy (David Scheie), Mark (Marilyn), Michelle, and Chris.  He had seventeen grandchildren, all of whom he was unreasonably proud: Chris, Matt, Erik, Mike, Lia, Alexandra, Daniel, Kalena, Emma, Marisa, Rafaelle, Parker, Gabe, Chase, Christela, Danielle, and Kaelyn. He was grateful to know LeAnne Johnson, and Ethel’s brothers Glenn and Roger, and their wives, Carol Mae and Jan, both of whom visited him even after their spouses’ deaths. Fred was especially close to Milly and Merle’s children, Anne, Kay and Don (who visited him often) and to his sister Gladys’s children, Judy, Jane, and Debbie. He will be missed by them all, but all are grateful that he is once more with his beloved wife Ethel. 

Memorial service will be held Friday, June 7, 2024 at 2 PM at Zion Lutheran Church in Milaca. In lieu of flowers, Fred would have loved a donation to Feed My Starving Children

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Service Schedule

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Memorial Service

Friday, June 7, 2024

Starts at 2:00 pm (Central time)

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