Obit: Johnson, Don L. (1927 - 2006)

Contact: Crystal Wendt

Surnames: Johnson, Cox,Carlson, Swenson, Zache, Whelan

----Sources: Leader–Telegram (Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, Wis.) 1/22/2006

Johnson, Don L. (18 March 1927 - 20 Jan. 2006)

Don L. Johnson was one of Wisconsin’s most-honored writers in the fields of nature, conservation and the outdoors. A resident of Menomonie, he died at his home there on Friday, Jan. 20, at the age of 78, of cancer and Parkinson’s disease.

Johnson’s career as an outdoor communicator took him too many remote regions of the world and won him a long list of honors, but he was best known for his insightful reports on the woods and waters of his native state.

He was born to Harvey and Madeline (Cox) Johnson in Milwaukee County on March 18, 1927, and attended public and parochial schools in Milwaukee and West Allis. However, much of his boyhood was spent on the farm of his maternal grandparents in Dodge County and the family farm in Buffalo County, where a lifetime love of the outdoors was deeply instilled.

Johnson quit high school in West Allis to join the Navy during World War II and served with the fleet and amphibious forces in the South Pacific. After his discharge in 1946, he attended UW-Madison, where he studied biology, journalism and natural resources. He also worked for a time as a reporter and feature writer for the Winona, Minn., Republican-Herald (now the Daily News). In 1949 he married Lorraine Senn of Cochrane, Wis.

Returning to Madison, he graduated from the university in 1951; then worked briefly for the Clark County Press in Neillsville, Wis. He then joined the staff of the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, where he worked for the next 11 years. He began an outdoors page and columns while a general assignment reporter and state editor at Eau Claire. He also was elected to two terms on the school board for the Black/McKinley district.

In 1958 he became chief of the paper’s Menomonie news bureau, and soon became involved in many community activities. He was a member of the Menomonie Police and Fire Commission and was especially active in the Dunn County Fish & Game Association. In 1959, the Menomonie Jaycees named him "Young Man of the Year."

Meanwhile, Johnson’s outdoors columns were winning wide recognition. In 1960, he received the Gordon MacQuarrie Award "For Telling the Conservation Story." In 1962, he became the outdoors writer for The Milwaukee Sentinel. During the next 23 years, his work there won many honors. He received the Conservation Communicator Award from the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and was cited by many other professional and conservation organizations, such as the Ruffed Grouse Society, Great Lakes Sport Fishermen, Wisconsin Newspaper Association, United Press International and the Associated Press.

Johnson was credited with exposing the presence of DDT and other pesticides and pollutants in fish and game in the 1960s. His articles led to the first pesticide bans in the nation.

In recognition of his investigative reports, he was honored by the Audubon Society in 1974 "for accurate interpretive reporting on behalf of all life on earth." The Arkansas Wildlife Federation presented him its Golden Mallard Award for his efforts to save the Cache River basin from destruction. He was also recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for outstanding coverage of environmental issues.

Although assignments sometimes took him to far-off places, including Alaska, Africa and South America, he remained active in community and company affairs. He served as a member of the board of directors of The Journal Company and was chairman of the company’s Unitholders Council. In 1982 the Sentinel staff voted him its prestigious "Excellence in Journalism" award.

Johnson left the newspaper in 1984 to become a freelance writer/photographer for a wide range of magazines and other publications. His work also appeared in several books, including "Harvest Moon" (Lost River Press, 1993); "Deer & Deer Hunting" (Krause Publications, 1993); "That Reminds Me of the One" (Willow Creek Press, 1995); and "Wisconsin Seasons" (The Cabin Bookshelf, 1998). His book, "Grouse & Woodcock, A Gunner’s Guide" (Krause, 1995) was acclaimed in reviews in numerous outdoor publications.

A second book, "Summer’s Song and Other Essays," a collection of essays on nature and wildlife from throughout Johnson’s career, was published in November of 2005 (Hackmatack Hollow Press).

Johnson remained a leader in the field after semi-retirement in the 1990s, and was sometimes referred to as "the dean of Wisconsin outdoor writers." The Wisconsin Outdoor Communicators Association named him an honorary life member, in recognition of "a lifetime of service to Wisconsin’s outdoors," and the Outdoor Writers Association of America named him its "Most Valuable Board Member."

He also served on the Board of Governors of the Wisconsin Conservation Hall of Fame and was director emeritus of the Izaak Walton League’s Perkins Wildlife Demonstration Area in Waukesha County. In 1991, the Milwaukee Press Club inducted Johnson into the Media Hall of Fame "for outstanding service to journalism and to the community." In 2000, he was named to the Century Honor Roll as one of 20 individuals selected by the Wisconsin Outdoor Journal as having the greatest influence on hunting and fishing in the state during the 20th century, and also received a special award from the Dunn County Fish & Game Association. In 1992, he was inducted into the Milwaukee Sports Show Hall of Fame. In 2005, he was named to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, honored by the Outdoor Writers Association of America "for excellence in outdoor communication," and cited by the Wisconsin Board of Natural Resources for his contributions to conservation.

Johnson is survived by Lorraine, his wife of 56 years; a son, Douglas (Carolyn) Johnson of Maryland; a daughter, Lynn (Curt) Carlson of Manitowoc, Wis.; four grandchildren, Clare, Paul, Miriam, and Thomas, and one great-grandchild, Mark Anthony, all of Maryland; two sisters, Joyce (Hilman) Swenson of Floral City, Fla., and Darlene (Harry) Zache of Hartland, Wis.; numerous nephews and nieces; and a host of friends.

A memorial service will be held at the Olson Funeral Home, 615 Wilson Ave. in Menomonie, on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006, at 1 p.m., with the Reverend J. David Whelan of Peace Lutheran Church officiating. Cremation will have taken place. Interment will occur at the Northern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Spooner, Wis., at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family encourages donations to the Dunn County Humane Society, 302 Brickyard Road, Menomonie, Wisconsin, 54751.

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Don Johnson is listed on the Clark County Internety Library; as he onced worked for the Clark County Press.



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