Russell Wm. “Bill” Johnson, 71, 19475 W. 9th C Road, Plymouth, a lifetime Plymouth and Donaldson area resident, died, at 8:15 a.m. on Monday, August 20, 2001, in the emergency room of the St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center, Plymouth. Bill had been ill since 1997. Born in Donaldson, on August 5, 1930, Bill was the son of Luther S. and Lila A. Larsen Johnson. After grammar school in the old Donaldson School House, he went to West High and played varsity basketball. He said, “we didn’t win many games, but had a lot of fun.” Graduated in 1948, Bill went to work in the Singer plant in South Bend for a few months. In October of that year, he joined the Air Force and in 1950 was sent to Korea. He served for two years, honorably discharged in 1952, with the rank of Technical Sergeant. Home again, Bill worked for Studebaker for a while and then commuted 80 miles a day to the Electromotive Co., in Illinois. During this time he also attended IUSB, studying journalism. He hoped to become a teacher. The drive to Illinois got to be “a pain,” he said, and in 1957, he approached the editor of the Pilot -News and asked for a job. Put to work in the back shop in the production department, Bill operated the Fairchild machine that punched tape and ran it through the linotype machines. He explained it as “being an early computagraphic way of getting news off the wire and into the system.” Bill Johnson spent forty years in the newspaper business doing the dirty work. Forty years in the back shop: out of bed at 3 a.m., six days a week. Printer’s ink ingrained under his fingernails, setting type and laying out the ads. At one time or another, he did it all. For 20 of those years, he was Production Manager. It was Bill who ordered ink by the barrel and paper by the truckload. For 15 years, he also did the camera work for the newspaper. Getting out the paper. Printing other people’s stories. And all the while, inside him, known to but a few was a talent for writing that was superior to most journalists who call themselves ‘professionals.’ Bill always had loved to write. A reticent man, shy even, he had never offered his work to the public. He didn’t think it was good enough. Encouraged by Eleanor Boys Blank, the publisher, and Bob Hutchins, the editor, he wrote the first of his columns for publication in 1973. He called them “Footpaths.” His first printed effort was about the Gary steel mills irresponsibly cutting down timber to stoke their furnaces on weekends when they didn’t need to use the more expensive coal. Raping the forests, he wrote. A conservationist, Bill was enraged. It showed. The story was powerful. Bill began to write three or four columns a month. “For my own satisfaction,” he said. “Some men like to golf. I like to write.” He wrote about his children. A dyed-in-the-wool conservative, he wrote about politics and how he felt about things. Mad, mostly. There were many memorable pieces. Stories that will be priceless legacies for his grandchildren. One was about fishing with his grandson, another was called “A Red, White and Blue Cup of Coffee,” and a fictional story, entitled “Something Awful About Grandpa,” was yet another. Bob Hutchins asked Bill to do a weekly outdoors column. Bill called it “It’s Time for Conservation.” An avid fisherman and gardener, Bill said, “I liked to write about things that I know and have strong feelings about.” A fly fisherman, making his own lures, he said, “it doesn’t really matter whether the fish are biting or not.” When the kids were little the family would go to Canada, Wisconsin, Minnesota, or just about anywhere they were biting…or not biting. Twice, at Hutchin’s urging, Bill’s column was entered into the annual Hoosier State Press Awards Contest and won first place as Best Column both times. In 1973, Bill was elected as a member of Hoosier Outdoor Writers, an exclusive group limited to 50 writers and broadcasters. In 1976, he was a delegate to the State Republican Convention. One of the thrills of his life was when Governor Bowen shook his hand and told him how much he enjoyed his columns. That handshake, that comment, was worth a million dollars to Bill Johnson. Good pay. Only pay really. He never earned a dime for any of his writing. “That’s O.K., “ he said. “I did it because I loved writing.” His last column was published in 1996, “ Depression Babies Vs. The Cry-Baby Boomers.” He retired in April of 1997. Bill loved the Pilot-News. Oh, sure, he’d gripe about this or that: he wanted everything to be perfect. If a page wasn’t paginated correctly or cutlines under a photo were wrong or less than perfect grammar or shoddy reporting was used by reporters, he’d stomp around, cigarette between his teeth, fussing and growling. He said, “I loved working for the newspaper. There is something special about getting a product out every day. No two are ever the same. There’s a great sense of accomplishment when the deadline has come and gone and you know you’ve done your job when the presses start to roll.” He added, “the writing I did back in the Hutchins days gave me a freedom I could not have gotten elsewhere.” Through the years, Bill was offered positions elsewhere. A large Canadian newspaper wanted to hire him, but he and his family loved Plymouth and they didn’t want to leave. A devoted family man, Bill was always involved in his children’s activities. A classical music buff, he also enjoyed visiting sites on the internet about other countries and viewing many works of art. Bill is survived by his wife, Carol Ann Woodfill, who he took as his bride on Dec. 20, 1959, in the First United Methodist Church in Plymouth, and by their three children: Lu H. Johnson and Jo Avery, Palm Springs, Cal. Andrea M. and Steve Collins, Osceola, Ind., and Monica R. Johnson, South Bend. He adored his grandchildren and was so proud of his two grandsons and granddaughter, Matthew, Cody and Jessica Collins. They survive, together with Betty J. Rhodes, a sister, and two brothers, Floyd “Bud” and Charles “Duane” Johnson, all of Plymouth. A foster sister Betty Lee Snell of Atascadero, CA also survives. He was preceded in death by his parents and by Dusty Rhodes, his brother-in-law and friend. Friends of Bill and his family are invited to come to the Johnson-Danielson Funeral Home, 1100 N. Michigan St., Plymouth, Ind. from 3 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, August 23, 2001. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. on Friday, August 24, 2001, in the funeral home. The Rev. Brian Deckinger, pastor of the Immanuel Lutheran Church, Donaldson, of which he was a member, will officiate. The V.F.W. Post 1162 will conduct military honors at the graveside in New Oakhill Cemetery, Plymouth. Memorial gifts in Bill’s memory may be made to the American Lung Association.
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