Swede Johnson will be honored at Minnesota FFA Convention

By Carol Stender

WILLMAR, Minn. — Swede Johnson is excited about his upcoming induction into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame. One of his fellow inductees in Mike Cullen of Minnetonka, who was Willmar Vocational School director during Johnson’s tenure as the school’s ag department chairman.

Thanks to Cullen’s support on the administrative end, Johnson and his ag department staff were able to grow course offerings and staff. The school’s name has since changed to Ridgewater College. Speaking of names, Johnson won’t reveal his first name. He got the nickname Swede while attending elementary school in Taylors Falls. He doesn’t know why he was given the moniker but says it’s obvious he was a Swede.

Johnson grew up on the family’s 28-cow dairy farm. The land was good for livestock and poor for crops, yet he took first place in the DeKalb corn growing contest.


"We had a lot of cows and we the corn plot where we had a lot of manure," he explained.

He attended the University of Minnesota and majored in agronomy and minored in animal science. Johnson sought a master’s degree, but never finished the requirements.

"I got married and felt I should probably get a job instead," Johnson said. He moved with his wife, Marilyn, to Brewster where he taught agriculture to Korean War veterans.

Johnson went to work for Doughboy feeds in the New Prague area and then for Supersweet feeds. He eventually worked with turkey growers in the Brainerd area.

"You get pretty close to your customers," he said. "I really enjoyed doing that."

He managed turkey hatcheries in Iowa and Worthington before the company sold it’s hatchery business. He was sent to Willmar and Willmar Poultry to coordinate the sale of some Supersweet incubators to the company.

When Supersweet sold the operations to Earl B. Olson, "That put me out of a job," Johnson said.

He had two career opportunities — teaching at the Willmar Vocational School or working on turkey operations in the Benson area. He accepted the teaching job and started in October of 1969. He retired July of 1995.


Johnson taught animal nutrition classes and after one year was named the ag department chair.

"We had a good reputation then and our program started growing," Johnson said.

Under his guidance, Willmar’s ag program became more specialized to meet student needs.

Under his guidance, Willmar’s ag program became more specialized to meet student needs.

"When I started, every student took the same thing," he said. "The year after I was hired, I said we have enough staff that we can help students specialize. If you are milking cows, you don’t want to take all the crop courses or if you are a crop farmer, you don’t have an interest in a lot of animal science."

Johnson and his staff developed a strong working relationship with FFA instructors. The college began hosting FFA contests. He continues to work with the FFA and serves as a judge for the regional creed contest.

When he retired from his 20-year teaching career at Ridgewater, Johnson moved from agriculture to his woodshop, he said. Johnson uses his skills to build baptism boxes for each newly baptized child at his church.

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