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Ralph Stanley Johnson, age 88, passed away gracefully on Tuesday, January 16th while residing at CentraCare Care Center in Willmar. In his early 80’s, Ralph met the challenges of Parkinson’s Dementia and its effect on his mind, his greatest gift, with courage. He was surrounded by his loving family with whom he was able to acknowledge the quality of his life with them prior to his passing. He had previously stated that his “mission in life was to do something meaningful.” He more than accomplished this dream and life goal.
Ralph was born July 1, 1935, the son of Stanley and Vinette (Stromberg) Johnson in Minneapolis. In his youth, the family moved to Duluth, which is where Ralph became a native of the Lake Superior city he called “the slippery uphill struggles that a part of life.” The family resided in the Woodland Hill area adjacent to Ridgeview Country Club where he was eventually a “caddy master” and assistant golf professional in the early 1950’s. After high school, he went on to graduate from Augsburg College in 1957 with a degree in Philosophy. He played on the Augsburg Golf Team for four years and was on the start-up hockey team for one year; though, he never played hockey in high school. After college with a love for philosophy and existentialism, he decided to move to St. Louis, MO, with his wife and daughter, Ann. He then pursued his career path and journey, the art of philosophy and existential psychotherapy.
His first and main true love however was his 65 plus years of marriage to his loving and devoted wife, Alvera “Vera” Geraldine Olson. With his love for words with a romantic spirit and a love of poetry, a tone of rhythm was set for a long future and joint partnership in living a meaningful (that word again) life to include raising three children. They were best friends (a quality of life-long marriage success) and his appreciation of how she cared for him was often reflected in his traditional holiday speeches with his family that were memorable. She misses the multiple intellectual conversations that were stolen through dementia, to include many nights in the “den” answering life’s complicated questions, as the superficial aspects of existence were not to his liking. “Till death do us part.”
His other love beyond his children and extended family was his work, which to him was not work at all. There are many accomplishments in the 50 plus year career of being a Psychotherapist at Woodland Centers in Willmar and prior, but these accolades would not be his message to deliver today. He loved going to work, the morning routine of putting on one of his world record number of neckties, and looking forward to the deeper conversations of the day with his clients. He may have heard the word “workaholic” more than once from others, but his response to that would be “what do you mean, this is not work, it’s having fun.” He was known to show up at work on a vacation day to check his mail. And, did not value excessive time off which made retirement difficult (“I no longer have a purpose”). He was known to despise computers, excessive paperwork, and diagnostic labels that did not describe the human condition and its suffering. He also was not a fan of ridged professional boundaries that did not acknowledge his client as a real person with feelings. He would have “given the shirt off his back” for his clients, and actually did give a suffering client who came out of the cold his socks. He would also end an appointment early to give a client who did not have a car a ride home in the rain. The values of client care were imprinted in his two sons and grandson who are also psychotherapists in the Willmar area; two currently employed by Woodland Centers. His youngest son, Andy, is currently practicing in his memorialized office at “The Center” where he was the Unit Director of Outpatient Services from 1978 to 2000. He retired at 82, “till dementia do us part.”
If you were a former client of Ralph’s, he would want you to know that he genuinely cared about you and that his relationship with you was meaningful to him, hoping it was also meaningful to you.
Ralph’s other “parts” include a love of writing. He composed multiple essays and papers related to many topics of mental health and life. He loved words that were structured into meaningful statements and often used poetry in the art of his work. He was a collector, having a large sports card collection along with coins and neckties. He enjoyed reading, his “G and G” trips with his youngest son, jazz music, bowling, his card club friends, and singing songs that did not necessarily make the top 40. He entertained his family and other nursing home patients and staff with his vocals. An avid golfer for many years, he also slowed down his foursome frequently with eagle eye golf ball hunting, a skill he passed onto his grandson. There was much laughter related to the environmental mishaps of where he might venture to find a Pro V1x “pristine” golf ball. Because it wasn’t work, he also enjoyed the mentoring and licensure supervision of future potential therapists. We will miss his unique self, his imperfections, and greatly appreciate his qualities and his generosity to others. Ralph will be forever loved by his family, and all who knew him well.
He is survived by his loving wife, Vera, and three children; Ann (and Don) Ellwood of Victoria; Alan (and Kim) Johnson of rural Willmar; and Andy Johnson (and Chris) of Willmar. He has six grandchildren: Rachael, Lauren, Emily, Abbey, Seth, and Zach. He also has six great grandchildren: Lexi, Jolie, Nora, Miles, Hadley, and Graham. Also surviving are his brother, Jim (and Diane) Johnson of Willmar.
He is preceded in death by his parents, and sister, Polly.
Memorials may be given to Woodland Centers, 1125 6th St SE, Willmar, MN 56201. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date. Funeral arrangements are with Harvey Anderson Funeral Home in Willmar. www.hafh.org