By Jennifer Kotila
COKATO, MN Many of the “great inventions” often taken for granted today were just beginning to become reality when Iona Johnson was born a century ago on a farm in Tyro Township, near Boyd.
The oldest of six, four girls and two boys, Johnson recalls that those living in rural areas at the time did not have access to electricity, but those living in the city did.
People today think nothing of using electricity nearly everywhere they go. However, it was a big deal when it was first available, Johnson noted.
By the time electricity was available in rural areas, Johnson’s family had bought a restaurant in town, calling it Hanson’s Cafe (Hanson is her maiden name). She and her sister were waitresses at the restaurant.
“We liked that better than farm work,” Johnson said.
That was during the Great Depression. Although Johnson’s family was not able to afford much extra, they had what they needed, in a time when many people were struggling just to get by, she said.
Before her parents bought the restaurant, Johnson and her sister had been housekeeping for her parents’ friends for $4 per week. “We didn’t spend the money, either; we hung on to it,” Johnson noted.
Other great inventions Johnson made note of were automobiles, tractors for field work, and airplanes.
Johnson attended country school through eighth grade, receiving her diploma at a ceremony in Granite Falls. However, there were no buses in those days, so she did not attend high school.
While attending country school, Johnson’s family took turns with neighbors driving the children to school, because it was three miles away.
There were no snowplows in those days, either, and the roads were more like dirt paths, Johnson said.
So, when it snowed, which it often did around Johnson’s birthday and Valentine’s Day two important celebrations in the life of a student the children could not make it to school, Johnson noted.
Her parents owned a Model T Ford, and Johnson remembers going to visit friends and family a lot in the car, which had side curtains to keep out the weather, but did not have windows, heat, or windshield wipers.
One day, as the whole family was on its way home from a visit, her dad said it was going to rain.
“We piled out of the car to hurry up and get the side curtains out and on the car before it rained,” Johnson said, noting they were stored under the back seat of the car, where the children sat.
Although her parents had a car, Johnson was not taught to drive until she was 40 years old, when she had her oldest son, Robert, teach her.
“I was tired of sitting home rather than going somewhere,” Johnson said about wanting to learn how to drive.
Johnson did not get on an airplane until she was about 70 years old, and has traveled to Florida by plane a couple of times since.
When her children were young, she remembers standing outside and looking up when airplanes flew by, thinking how amazing it was they could “fly like a bird.”
Johnson married Oscar Stevens in 1934, who had worked as a mechanic since he was young.
The couple moved to Iowa, where Stevens was employed at an automobile parts store until he passed away suddenly after seven years of marriage, leaving Johnson a young widow with a son.
Her mother had recently passed away, as well, and Johnson’s father, Ben Hanson, decided to move to Stockholm to operate the Stockholm Country Store.
Johnson came with her father to help at the store, “then I had to go marry a farmer,” Johnson said, jokingly.
She met Clinton Johnson while working at the store and attending choir practice at Stockholm Lutheran Church. He was a farmer who lived on a farm a few miles away, and began walking Johnson home after choir practice.
“That’s what love will do to you,” Johnson said.
Along with her oldest son, the Johnsons had four more children, Ronnette, Diane, Dennis, and Beatrice, and Johnson now has 10 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.
After their own children were grown, Clinton decided he wanted to try another venture and bought White Front Locker Service.
Their son, Dennis, still operates the business, where Johnson worked for four years, wrapping meat.
After her husband passed away in 1975, when Johnson was 62, she worked at Northland Canning Factory in the fall, and for a seed corn company in the summer.
“I had such a long driveway, I didn’t want to fight to get out in the winter,” Johnson said about not working in the winter.
Johnson eventually bought a house in town, where she lived for 20 years before recently moving to Edgewood Gables.
Johnson also continued to drive until she was almost 99 years old. She decided to give it up because “people drive so fast, even where they are not supposed to, and my reflexes are not as good.”
Johnson will celebrate her 100th birthday Feb. 17 at Stockholm Lutheran Church, from 2 to 4 p.m.