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James Johnson, 73 Print E-mail
Written by TRF Times   
    Thief River Falls - James Johnson, 73, died on Friday, April 6, 2012 at his home in rural Thief River Falls.
    Funeral services were held Tuesday, April 10 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Thief River Falls with Rev. Carl Hansen officiating. Casket bearers included Mark Jensen, Cris Johnson, Jim MacKay, Bruce Mathson, Tim Raiter and Chris Scholler. Honorary casket bearers included Lyle Bjorge, Jack Davidson, Rey Hanson, John Kinna and Wallace Torkelson. Interment was held at Greenwood Cemetery in Thief River Falls.
    James Roger Johnson was born on June 12, 1938 in Hallock, to Ernest and Anne (Antonson) Johnson. In 1944, the Johnsons moved back to Thief River Falls, where Ernest opened Johnson’s Grocery on Main Avenue. On V-E day, 6-year-old Jimmy decorated his bicycle with newspaper streamers and rode it through the streets, ringing the bicycle bell.
    Active in the Boy Scouts, Jim remembered details of the troop’s multi-day bicycle ride up to Kenora, Ontario. Because Jim had installed a homemade basket and two metal containers on the back wheel, he had the unenviable task of hauling the camping pots and pans.
    Jim was also “active” in pulling pranks during his youth in Thief River Falls. With a homemade pea-shooter and a bag of dried peas from his dad’s store, Jim had a great vantage point on the roof of the Penney’s building. He had also discovered how to turn off the traffic signal at Third Street and Main Avenue to create his own personal traffic jam. With other neighborhood boys in the winter, he’d duck behind cars at intersections and hang on to the rear bumpers to hitch an icy ride through the snowy streets.
    In the summer – and perhaps to ensure the safety and well-being of the citizens of Thief River Falls – Jim’s parents sent him to stay with his older brother, (WWII veteran) Bill, and his wife, Joyce, on their farm in Warren. With twelve years difference in age, young Jimmy idolized his older brother. Working at Bill’s side, he learned to love farming, grew to be an excellent mechanic, and developed his lifelong appreciation of classical jazz and big-band swing. While at Lincoln High School, Jim enjoyed fast cars, weekend dances in country halls, and the pleasure of hearing Duke Ellington (twice) at the Maple Lake Pavilion.
    Jim graduated from Lincoln High School in 1956 and then moved to Chicago, where he lived on the south side, worked at Midway Airport, and – yes – enjoyed going to jazz and blues clubs every weekend.
    In November 1957, Jim enlisted in the United States Army and finished basic training during a very cold winter at Fort Carson, Colo. From there, Jim went for training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, finishing second in his class at refrigeration school. Then things took a turn for the worse and he spent the summer of 1958 in the hot desert at Fort Ord, Calif., building an airstrip.
    He put in for a transfer – he always said he would have done anything to get out of that heat – but the troop ship to Bremerhaven in November 1958 was no picnic either. They sailed down the Hudson River from the Brooklyn Navy Yards and straight into a storm that lasted eleven long days and nights.
    He spent the next two years at the Quartermaster Supply Depot in Ingrandes, France in the Loire Valley. He and a buddy fixed up an old Nash and drove the countryside; Jim would also take the train into Paris and other European cities on a regular basis. When he was completely out of cash, he’d sign up for the weekend USO tours of French chateaux. His Army stories were famous within the family; Jim would recount them again and again, regularly collapsing into breathless laughter when recalling his exploits with lifelong friends.
    In late 1960, Jim was honorably discharged and returned to Thief River Falls, where he took a position with Bridgeman, which would last until his retirement. Although he told stories of dangerous wintry nights driving the big diesel semi-trailer, he admitted he also enjoyed the work because he was alone and nobody was there telling him what to do. In 1962, he married Faye Auchenpaugh nee Torkelson and together they had three children: Marisa, Damita, and Kamin. In addition to his full-time job, he raised cattle and farmed eighty acres southeast of town.
    In 1981, Jim married Evelyn “Evie” Wollin nee Hanson and became the proud stepfather of Evie’s son, Kerry. Jim and Evie spent thirty-one happy and fulfilling years in the home he built for them. Of course, before he even began the house he had to finish his mechanical shop: a 2,000-square-foot container for Jim’s “treasures.”
    He had never been able to afford new farm equipment but could fix just about anything he could buy at a nearby auction sale. Feeding a lifelong addiction, Jim continued to fix classic cars and antique tractors; as “JJ Parts” on eBay, he sold a number of restored vehicles and parts to locations throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.
    Evie “fondly” remembers a great deal he said he got on an International M tractor: when they arrived at the old farmer’s place, the tractor – if you could call it that – was in boxes, some of which had to be pulled out from underneath the trailer house. Pretty soon, that Tractor in a Box was fully rebuilt and repainted.
    Jim had a great and sardonic sense of humor. He could tell a good story and was not afraid to laugh at himself. He had a number of one-liners that he would use (and re-use and re-use). Having heard the entire story more than once, these one-liner punch lines – delivered on their own - could send (and re-send) his children into paroxysms of laughter every time.
    Jim retired from Bridgeman after being diagnosed with diabetes. In 2002, after having been on kidney dialysis for some time, Jim received a life-saving kidney donation from Evie. For the last ten years, Jim was not always in the best of health, but he still enjoyed life, if not all the poking and prodding from doctors. Jim was a member of St. Pauli Lutheran Church of rural Thief River Falls. A patriotic man, he truly enjoyed being a member of the American Legion’s honor guard and carrying the colors at numerous funerals and special events.
    Of all the pleasures and obsessions of his too-short life, being Grandpa Jim gave him the greatest reward. His joy was visible in his gentle encouragement and in the smile of satisfaction on his face whenever he got to be near his grandchildren.
    Jim Johnson will be dearly missed by all. Survivors include his loving wife, Evie of Thief River Falls; children, Marisa (Wade) Benson of Atlanta, Ga., Damita (Michael) Underwood of Moorhead, Kerry (Sharon) Wollin of Eagan, and Kamin (Michelle) Johnson of Kennett Square, Pa.; grandchildren, Travis and Madison Underwood; Justin, Jordan and Danielle Wollin, and Madilyn and Ali Johnson; sisters, Doris Kavanaugh of Colorado Springs, Colo.; Marilyn Jensen of Anoka, and Irene Kinna of Footville, Wis.; and many nieces and nephews.
    He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Bill.
    Condolences may be left for the family at www.johnsonfuneralservice.com.
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