“Lanesboro is a unique community,” stated Dean Johnson, special guest speaker at the 2019 Lanesboro Area Community Foundation (LACF) Annual Banquet, which was held on April 7, 2019, at the Lanesboro Community Center.
The LACF Board of Directors were very honored to have Johnson as the guest speaker for the second annual event. The LACF began this event in 2018 as a way to show appreciation to many of those in the Lanesboro, Whalan, and the surrounding area who have supported the LACF and its mission to be a good neighbor by investing in the vitality of the people and community of Lanesboro, and also to inform the community of the projects their donations supported through LACF in the past year.
Johnson, who grew up on a farm near Highland and graduated from Lanesboro school, has been a parish pastor with Calvary Lutheran Church in Willmar, Minn., for 46 years and is a former Willmar firefighter.
Johnson was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives where he served from 1978-1982 and the Minnesota Senate from 1982-2006 where he served as minority leader and also as majority leader, which is rare.
A Brigadier General in the United States National Guard, Johnson served as special assistant to the Chief of Chaplains at the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. He received numerous accommodations and awards, including the Legion of Merit.
Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Business Administration from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and in 2002 received a Master’s Degree in Strategic Studies from the United States Army War College.
Currently serving on the Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota, Johnson has previously served a two year term as Chair of the Board of Regents.
LACF board member, County Commissioner Duane Bakke, opened the evening by welcoming all in attendance recognizing many of them, including Lanesboro City Council members Chase Bakke, Tom Smith and Autumn Johnson; high school Superintendent Matt Schultz, school board member Dave Lawstuen, City Administrator Michele Peterson, township officer Gene Topness, Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Andrzej Zalasinski, Executive Director of Commonweal Theatre Hal Cropp, and many more.
“The City of Lanesboro thrives because of the numerous volunteers,” stated Bakke as he listed the many volunteer organizations that are active in town. “Everybody should appreciate that from each other and to each other — you are all involved and it’s great — it makes things work,” he said.
Pastor Patricia Hinkie with the Whalan and Highland Lutheran Churches gave the invocation before the crowd enjoyed a delicious meal and dessert catered by the Lanesboro Pastry Shoppe. Bakke asked for a moment of silence in honor of so many Lanesboro area residents that have passed away recently, including Duane and Melissa Benson, before introducing Johnson.
“It’s fun to come back to Lanesboro and to Highland, where I grew up,” Johnson stated. He talked about his childhood where he attended a one room schoolhouse for six years and then attended Lanesboro school. As a senior in high school, he was a starting center on the Burro’s all-conference, 11-man football team in the Maple Leaf conference.
Johnson shared several stories, both comical and emotional, bringing the audience to tears and then into laughter within a matter of minutes.
He said a couple people had asked him what it was about Highland and Lanesboro that gave him his start. “Let me attempt to answer that — which I think about often,” he said. Johnson was silent for a few moments, gathering his emotions, and then said, “my mom and dad,” with a quiver in his voice.
He described his parents as “eighth grade educated, hard-working farmers who cared deeply about the community, cared about education, were going to support the schools, who cared deeply about First Lutheran Church of Highland and they cared deeply about the community,” he explained.
“It was engrained in me from the day I was born — you care about the community in which you live and work — nothing fancy, just plain hard work — and you care and respect your neighbors,” he said.
“I learned from my father to be tenacious — there is nothing that can’t be done if you put your mind to it,” he said. He recollected when he was young and the cows were calving in the spring in the mud and rain. After trying to make excuses to get out of helping, his father said, “There are no excuses — we are going to get these cows into a warmer place — get busy — I don’t want to hear it — just get the job done,” recollected Johnson. “He was tenacious — that’s just who he was.”
“I learned from my mother to be a peacekeeper,” said Johnson, and he also learned to be respectful of people of all faiths.
Johnson also credited his Sunday school teachers, teachers in Highland and his teachers in Lanesboro, especially Mrs. Ferden, who took the four students in his class on their sixth grade trip to the state capital. “I walked into the capital when I was in sixth grade — I saw the chandelier, I saw the excitement, and I said, ‘I’m going to serve here one day,’ and I went back and put together a scrapbook on Minnesota,” he explained. He still has the scrapbook today.
“Some of the best teachers I had in my education — bar none — were in Lanesboro High School,” stated Johnson. “They were some of the best faculty, best teachers, committed to instructing the young people of this community — no doubt about it,” Johnson stated. Johnson also noted several “characters” from Lanesboro and the community of Lanesboro as a whole had an influence on him growing up.
“You know what a unique part of Minnesota that you live in and reside in and support — it’s very unique,” Johnson said. “You folks have done a wonderful job of cultivating this natural resource in Fillmore County and in Lanesboro,” he commented, explaining that everywhere he goes people have either been to Lanesboro or heard of Lanesboro.
Stena Lieb, art teacher at Lanesboro schools, spoke about the Empty Bowls project her students and special education teacher Dana Norby’s students hosted recently. The students did the planning, created bowls, made soup, worked at the event and more. Lieb commented on how much the students learned through the project.
President of the LACF, Louise Wolfgramm gave the president’s update and thanked everyone who supports the LACF in any way and recognized board members Jim Haugen, Robin Krom, Barb Schramm, Brett Clarke, Barb Jeffers, Duane Bakke, Linda Johnson, Walter Bradley and Adam Wiltgen for their continued work on the board. Following the financial report by LACF Treasurer Jim Haugen, Bakke again thanked everyone who attended.
Lanesboro Area Community Foundation is an affiliate fund of Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, a 501(c)3 organization. Anyone interested in joining the LACF can contact any board member or learn more by visiting smifoundation.org/lanesboro-area-community-foundation.