By Kristen Miller
COKATO, MN For 40 years, Russ Johnson of Cokato has owned and operated Russ Johnson Electric.
Now, at the age of 81, Johnson will be passing on the torch to long-time employee Mike Brandel, 29, also of Cokato.
Johnson has worked in the electrical field ever since he graduated from Cokato High School.
Immediately after high school, Johnson spent time farming, but he also worked part time for his brother Don Johnson, who owned an electrician business out of Annandale.
In 1961, Johnson veered away from electrical work after being appointed to the state’s agricultural stabilization and conservation service. Through this, he became responsible for all the federal agricultural programs in Minnesota.
In 1970, Johnson was assigned to the US Department of Agriculture and had an opportunity to move to Washington, DC.
“Not wanting to raise my family in Washington, DC, I resigned,” Johnson said.
Since he already had five years on-the-job training working for his brother, Johnson decided to study for his master electrician license.
It was after passing the state board test in 1970, that Johnson started his own electrical business.
In those 40 years of business, Johnson has most enjoyed working with people and being able to provide service to them.
First Baptist Church Pastor Dan Swanson can attest to Johnson’s hard work and dedication.
Not only did Swanson find a dependable worker in Johnson, he has also found a friend.
“He’s just a great friend,” Swanson said, “He also tells good Baptist preacher jokes.”
As an employer, Johnson won’t complain about the help he has had through the years, beginning with his son-in-law, Phil Lee, who has worked with Johnson for nearly 38 years.
“They both are very good,” Johnson said of Brandel and Lee.
Johnson has also enjoyed being a part of the business communities of Cokato and Dassel, he said. Johnson served on the Dassel-Cokato School Board for 26 years, and has been a Cokato Dassel Rotarian for 37 years.
Even at 80 years old, Johnson has been out working in the field, well past the average retirement age.
Johnson would likely still be out there had it not been for a back injury he received last fall.
Since then, Johnson has been running the business from inside the office, lining up work, paying bills, and doing the additional paperwork involved with running a successful business.
Beginning Saturday, Aug. 28, Brandel will carry on Johnson’s work under a new name, Brandel Electric.
“I am very, very happy and confident that [Mike] will do a good job,” Johnson said, adding that both Brandel and Lee are very smart.
As a way to test the waters in the electrical field, Brandel began working with Johnson part time in the summer before his senior year of high school.
Brandel found that he enjoyed the field, and continued working with Russ Johnson Electric while he got a construction electrician degree at St. Cloud Technical College.
Brandel then went on to receive his master electrician license, and has been working for Johnson ever since.
Throughout the years, the Cokato-based electrical company has served almost 1,800 customers.
Brandel is honored to be taking over the business, especially with the reputation that Johnson and his crew have built within the Dassel-Cokato community.
Having always looked up to Johnson, Brandel appreciates all Johnson has done for him and providing him the opportunity to keep growing as an electrician.
“I’m thankful for him to have stuck with me, and I hope I can carry on his legacy,” Brandel said, adding he hopes to hold on to the customer base and continue to grow as a company.
In addition, Russ Johnson Electric has provided the electrical work in preparation for the Cokato Corn Carnival each year, which Brandel plans to continue.
In his retirement, Johnson’s plans are fairly simple as he says he will be happy just being able to spend more time with his wife and family.
He is also hoping to get some unfinished work done around the house including landscaping, which he enjoys doing.
Brandel Electric can be reached at (320) 286-6123.