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William F. Johnson, III

March 17, 1916 January 12, 2009
William F. Johnson, III
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Obituary for William F. Johnson, III

William F. Johnson III, resident of Frederic, WI, died Monday, January 12, 2009, at the age of 92. ••• A community man William Johnson III dedicated much of his life to youth and the village of Frederic FREDERIC - Although he never held public office, William Johnson III might be called the ultimate public servant. The 92-year-old former teacher, who died Monday at his home in Frederic, spent his life putting his heart and soul – along with his drafting and building skills – into projects like the community swimming pool and the depot renovation project. Those, plus a long list of unselfish and often quiet acts of volunteerism. "Bill was just a great human being," said Emory Giles, who, as a former teacher and superintendent, served alongside Johnson at Frederic High School. "He was just a genuinely nice man. Both he and his wife, Gudrun, were always good and kind people." Johnson, he said, was the "ramrod" for the establishment of the Frederic Area Historical Society, working with several others. Part of Johnson's legacy, Giles added, are the hundreds of former students he taught in his industrial arts class through the decades. "How many people out there have a cabinet or sled they built in Bill's wood shop class?" he asked. "And, of course, the swimming pool is his …" Johnson designed and served as director of the Frederic swimming pool project which began in 1957 and was completed in 1958. The pool, which served the area for half a century, was a source of pride for the community and for Johnson, who realized how much enjoyment it provided, not to mention the opportunity for thousands of youngsters to learn how to swim through lessons offered in summer school classes. "For some the opportunity of doing something big comes once in a lifetime and right now this looks like mine," he told the Leader in 1957. Johnson died within weeks of the school board decision to raze the pool in light of potential costs of renovation to meet state code. Johnson's son, William IV, said his father saw the positive nature in that decision as it offered the opportunity to build a new pool. ••• For 40 years, from 1938 to 1978, with the exception of serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, Johnson taught industrial arts and drivers ed and coached football, baseball and basketball at Frederic Schools. When he first heard about a teacher's job opening up at Frederic from the placement office at Stout Teachers College (now UW-Stout), he had to get out a map. He arrived by train and found living quarters at the Turner Hotel on Main Street. As a teacher, he proved to be popular. In the 1950s, students would come over to the Johnson home during suppertime to get him. In those days the high school shop was open at night and students would come back to school to work on their projects. After leaving his job to serve in World War II as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard aboard the liberty ship Cor Caroli, which delivered supplies to Guam, New Zealand and the Philippines, Johnson returned to his teaching job at Frederic and met a young teacher by the name of Gudrun Strand-Anderson. She had come to America from Norway in 1921 and, as she was planning a trip back to her homeland in 1947, she discovered her camera wasn't working. Faculty members directed her to Johnson, who taught photography. He fixed her camera. The meeting helped spark a relationship that would lead to their marriage in 1949. Gudrun recalled in a 1995 interview with the Leader that she had noticed Bill prior to the camera episode. She remembered sitting across from him at Friberg's Restaurant, the eating place in town where teachers would frequent. She said she was conscious of Bill's "good manners and gentlemanly demeanor." "He was admired by many," she said. Once a couple, they discovered both their fathers had been shoemakers. In their 59 years of marriage they took part in civic activities, enjoyed trips to Norway and were honored Frederic's Citizens of the Year in 1978 and Friends of Education in 1988. "Gudrun and I have had the interest in our young people since we started to teach," Bill told the Leader in the 1995 interview. Bill and Gudrun built their own home just a block from the former high school site, which is now the elementary school. He had learned some of his building skills from his father who would buy homes and fix them for resale in his hometown of Menasha. His interests in camping, photography, travel, local history and "everything nautical," notes his son, William IV, made for an interesting upbringing. At one point, trees caught his father's interest. "I remember he became an amateur tree repair technician," William IV said, smiling. "I would get dragged along to help him fix trees in the village that had been split by lightning strikes or heavy winds. He would use a long bolt and fasten the trunk of the tree back together again. It was quite the project." Bill would recruit his sons William and Dan to help replant trees from the wooded side of Coon Lake to places on school property and vacant village boulevards as part of a beautification effort. Helping his church, St. Luke's United Methodist, as a handyman and supervisor of the church's sound system, often recording services for shut-ins, kept Bill busy in post-retirement years. He also worked with the local Boy Scout troop on their woodworking projects, took on various projects as a school safety coordinator and played a large role in the restoration of the Soo Line depot in the 1980s and 1990s. He also played a role in establishing the Frederic Area Historical Society. But he will be remembered by many as the teacher who taught industrial arts and driver's ed. "He always enjoyed hearing from former students," William IV, said. "They thanked him for teaching them things they learned – skills they used all their life like drafting, welding and woodworking. Some of them built their own houses." His skills, noted his son, were matched only by a dedication to community. "He spent his whole adult life working on projects that made Frederic a better place to live," he said. Bill is survived by his wife, Gudrun, now a resident at Comforts of Home in Frederic, and sons Daniel and William, both of Frederic. *** Reprinted with permission from the Inter-County Leader *** ••• A memorial service is planned for Saturday, April 25, 2009, at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 204 Wisconsin Ave. S. in Frederic, at 10:00 a.m. Memorial gifts will be directed to the Frederic Area Historical Society, the New Swimming Pool Fund, the Frederic School District Scholarship Program and the Arnell Memorial Humane Society. These represent the interests both Bill and Gudrun had over their many years working to make Frederic a better place to live. To contact the family or for more information: William F. Johnson IV, P.O. Box 406, Frederic, WI 54837 or 715-327-4158. Rowe Funeral Home of Frederic, WI, has been entrusted with arrangements. For information call 715-327-4475.

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