FREEPORT — While Mike Johnson remembers many things about his father, Bruce Johnson, it is his father's approach to life he will always cherish.
“He lived the idea there are no strangers, only people you haven’t met yet,” Mike said.
Mike spoke lovingly of his father Thursday after Bruce’s death Wednesday following a battle with brain cancer. Bruce, a longtime champion of promoting agriculture, served as manager for the Stephenson County Farm Bureau since 2004. Over the years he became known as a man who lived, ate and breathed the idea that agriculture needed to be recognized and supported.
Bruce once said to this reporter, “I am living a dream job.”
“My father was one of those people who found time for anyone,” said Mike, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa. “He seemed to get more out of a 24-hour day than others. He loved to play games and he had that ability to always be there for us. I learned his patience and that is what made him a success in his career and as a man of family.”
Mike added while there are many life’s lessons he and his brother, David, received from their father, it was his love of family, a shared life spent with his wife of 40 years, Andrea.
The couple met on a blind date that almost didn’t happen. It was on Aug. 2, 1977, and the first night of the Knox County Fair. Bruce, a farm boy, was anxious to meet his date, which was set up by a best friend. The couple was to meet at the fair. Bruce, who was at one end of the fairground during a rainstorm, had to find his date at the other end. He persevered. Andrea waited for him. They married on March 18, 1978.
The fair-themed meeting worked for the couple. It was a meeting built around the celebration of agriculture, which was Bruce’s passion.
That passion brought the couple to Freeport for Bruce to work with area farmers at the Stephenson County Farm Bureau. To look at the office Bruce left behind, there are his awards for everything from a “Young Leaders of Tomorrow” to sales awards from FS Growmark, to many certificates of appreciation from FFA chapters and Chicago High School Ag Science. He championed the growth of the agriculture program at Highland Community College, as well as educational programs in area high schools.
Most recent recognition included the Illinois Cooperative Council’s award for “Outstanding Cooperative Manager” and the Freeport Chamber of Commerce's “Dale Lebron Award,” which is an award given to a volunteer who cherished the opportunity to give back to his hometown.
He served with the Rotary, United Way, State Bank, promoted and worked hard to make sure the Stephenson County Ag Breakfast was a success, and manned an agricultural education tent at the Stephenson County Fair, also serving on the fair board. But, this isn’t even a dent to his passion to promote farming as a rich industry that serves so many.
Marlie Folk, the administrative assistant for the Stephenson County Farm Bureau, said, “Bruce was a good teacher. His office is filled with his life. He told many people that it is his ‘man cave.’ His awards are many, and on display, and even feed sacks from seed companies where he used to work greet you at the door.”
Jay Kempel, general manager of the Stephenson Service Company, remembers Bruce as “a man you could never have a conversation without laughing. He was involved in all levels of agriculture, and teaching youth was a big focus, and he is the reason we had the return of the Dairy Days parade.”
“He was extremely hard working for agriculture and its growth, and its recognition. He had a true zest for life, and we will miss that. He was a man of dedication, always present, always there.”
Bruce is survived by his wife, Andrea, sons, Mike and David, and five grandchildren. A service will be Thursday, Dec. 13, at Grace Lutheran Church in Knoxville, Illinois.
Jane Lethlean; firstname.lastname@example.org; @DOGWMN2