Russell Albert Johnson, age 83, of Cokato, passed away Tuesday, June 19, 2012, at Cokato Manor nursing home.
Russ, the son of Albert and Martha Johnson, was born April 11, 1929, at the Johnson family homestead in French Lake Township, north of Cokato. He grew up in the Cokato area, attended Birch Lake country school, and graduated from Cokato High School in 1947.
Russ was baptized and confirmed in the Christian faith, and was a lifetime member of the North Crow River Lutheran Church.
He was united in marriage to the love of his life, Betty Jean Olean, May 13, 1950, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Annandale.
Russ farmed 300 rented acres until entering the US Army in 1953. After his discharge in 1955, Russ and Betty purchased the family homestead, where he farmed and worked as an apprentice electrician.
In 1961, he was appointed by US Secretary of Agriculture, Orville Freeman to serve on the Minnesota Agriculture and Stabilization and Conservation Committee (ASC). As Minnesota State Committeeman, he was one of three in charge of federal agriculture programs, and served in that capacity for eight years.
Russ enjoyed his years in agriculture and had the opportunity to travel throughout Minnesota, as well as making several trips to Washington, DC. He met and worked with many people including his good friends, Hubert Humphrey and Bob Bergland (who later became the US Secretary of Agriculture). He had the opportunity to meet President Kennedy in a White House Rose Garden ceremony, and attended the 1966 All-Star game in St. Louis with Vice President Humphrey, where he recounted his experiences with the Secret Service.
After being offered a transfer to Washington DC in 1969, the family decided to remain in Cokato, where Russ started an electrical contracting business, which he operated until 2010.
Russ had a passion for education and was elected to the Dassel-Cokato School Board in 1973, where he served for 26 years. Having served on the board that developed the Character Building Pillars, upon his retirement, Russ was honored by the establishment of the Russell A. Johnson Courtesy and Respect Award, which is given monthly to a student who has demonstrated good character.
Russ loved his family dearly, and often repeated his belief that “the most important gift a father can give his children is to love their mother and show it.” He joked that he hadn’t gotten far in life, as he lived for most of his life in the same house where he was born, but pointed out that he had been to a lot of places in between.
Left to cherish Russ’ memory are his wife, Betty of Cokato; children Debra (Neal) Wahlman of Plymouth, Marion (Phil) Lee of Cokato, Randy (Lynda) Johnson of Cokato, and Teri (Jim) Johnson of Big Lake; grandchildren Jon (Jenny) Lee, Bengt (Emily) Lee, Noah (Laura) Lee, Annalicia (Phil) Niemala, Grant Johnson, Zachary Johnson, Calab Johnson, Brianna Johnson, Kate Johnson, Jeremy (Mary) Wahlman-Krogh and Jason (Kristi) Wahlman; and six great-grandchildren.
Russ is further survived by a sister, LaVerne (Orville) Peterson; and many relatives and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Albert and Martha; brother Donald; infant brother Stanley; and an infant son, Mark.
A Celebration of Life service took place Saturday, June 23 at 2 p.m. at the First Baptist Church in Cokato, followed by interment in the North Crow River Lutheran Church Cemetery.
Visitation was Friday evening, June 22, from 3 to 8 p.m.at the First Baptist Church in Cokato, and continued one hour prior to the service Saturday at the church.
The Swanson-Peterson Funeral Home in Cokato handled the arrangements.