Paul Johnson died on Wednesday March 17 from natural causes. After 88.5 wonderful years he just puttered out while being cared for at the Walker Methodist care facility.
Paul was born to Reed and Ruth Johnson in Clarksfield, MN on October 15, 1932. The fourth of five children, Paul spent the bulk of his youth in Tracy, MN. An excellent athlete, Paul excelled in team sports but had a clear passion for football and was elected to the Tracy High School Athletic Hall of Fame. He graduated from St. Olaf College in 1954 where he again excelled in Football and was a very proud member and two-way player on the undefeated 1953 Midwest Conference Champion Oles.
While attending St. Olaf, Paul met and courted his amazing wife and life partner, Shirley Hellerud. They married shortly after graduating and spent their life together, raising and loving their three sons (David, Mark, & Dan) and their families. Paul and Shirley had a special love affair, both focused on appreciating each other and everything life brought their way. During his last couple months, when life was slowly but surely leaving him, Paul was wholly focused on making sure we all knew how lucky he felt to have found Shirley and the wonderful life they had together.
Since Shirley died in 2014, Paul often talked about his three families. First, his nuclear family including Shirley and their sons and families and the extended Johnson and Hellerud families from far and near. Paul was always at the center of action in this family, loving the spotlight and any chance to entertain his children and their friends and his grandchildren and nieces and nephews. Paul and Shirley’s Minnesota home was often the hub of activity for any relative or friend visiting from Hawaii or New York or Germany or California or Michigan or Southern Minnesota. A party was always prepared and ready. Perfect Manhattans, Vodka Tonics, Special Export, Steaks on the Grill, and laughter and music were always available for service.
Second, Paul loved his Bethlehem Lutheran Church family. A devoted “Church Man,” Paul loved weekly services and singing in the Bethlehem Men’s Chorus and for years serving in a variety of volunteer activities including Ushering. He loved sitting in the 3rd pew on the left, right below the sermon pulpit. Bethlehem’s music program was Paul’s pride and joy, and he never ceased to marvel at the amazing music created and provided by Bethlehem’s many performers, but most notably by their longtime organist Maria Bucka. He simply loved the Church and all chances to be there and be part of it.
Third, after Shirley died Paul found his last family at the Tower Light Senior Residence in St. Louis Park. Paul and his many friends there developed strong friendships that provided great joy during these past almost 7 years. Their regular Wine Club meetings (ironically Paul never cared much for wine, but he always adored other people who did!) were a staple of his week, and he loved going out to dinner with his buddies there as well. This group of friends made his last years truly memorable and enjoyable even without his beloved Shirley.
Paul leaves a lasting legacy of family and friends and involvement in the community. He was preceded in death by his wife Shirley and son Dan and daughter-in-law Jill. He is survived by one sister Kathy Cathcart, his sons David and Mark (Laura) and Daugher-in-Law Mary Johnson, grandchildren Kayla (Dylan) Bryant and Connor (Clare) and Karin and Charlie (Michaela O’Brien) and Jacob and Nick and Karl Johnson, and great grandchildren Wally and Soren Bryant.
Memorial Service to be scheduled later in the year. Thanks to his Hospice Care Teams from Allina and Walker Methodist. Thanks be to God for a life well lived.