Donovan Lee Johnson, 90, a loving father, grandfather, great grandfather, husband, brother, uncle, and devoted friend, passed away peacefully on Sunday, November 5, 2023, at Minocqua Health & Rehab(nursing home) in Northern Wisconsin. Born August 5, 1933, in Stoughton, WI, he lived a fulfilling life as a full-blooded Norwegian-American, marked by love of family, country, sports, and caring for others.
Don was preceded in death by his parents, Grace and Julius Johnson; sister Marvis and brother-in-law Harold Suarez; cousins Myron and Wayne Fosdal; and first wife, Carol (Jeffrey) Johnson.
He is survived by sons Greg(Chris), Eric(Patty), David(Michelle), Lee, and daughter Alissa; grandchildren Jeremy, Andy(Miriam), Ashlee, Abbigail(Joshua) Tullis, Nicolas, Jenna, Evan and Emily; great-grandchildren Audrey, Evelyn, Dylan, Ava, Anna, and Arlo; nephew Darrell Suarez, nieces Debbie(Richard/"Doc") Cogswell and Maureen Brown; grand-nieces/nephews Andrea Suarez, Sean(Katherine) Cogswell, Kimberly(Rob) Muellner, Chad(Amy) Brown, and Brandon Brown; cousins Ronnie Fosdal and Naomi Lynch; and 2nd wife, Nancy (Picha) Lawrence.
Raised on a tobacco farm in Utica until age 9, Don then moved to Madison with his parents and sister in 1942. His father, Julius, immediately got him a job at the Fieldhouse and hooked on UW Athletics. Prior to every Basketball game, Wrestling and Boxing match, he climbed up in the rafters briefly to point the spotlight on the American Flag, lights out, while the UW Band played our National Anthem, granting him free admission. He attended high school at Madison Central, graduating in 1951. He then attended UW-Madison from 1951-1955, graduating with a B.S. degree in Accounting while playing Centerfielder/Pitcher on the Baseball team with his best friend, Otto Puls. Longtime Badger Baseball Coach, Dynie(Arthur) Mansfield, gave him the nickname "Wheels" for his ability to "rundown" ANY ball in the outfield, including foul territory from centerfield, and stealing bases. At the end of his Junior season, in 1954, an injury tearing all four rotator cuffs in his throwing(right) arm/shoulder curtailed his aspirations of playing baseball professionally(MLB). He also played for Bowman Dairy in the Madison League, and went on to win a National Championship in the Industrial League while working for U.S. Steel.
He married his H.S. sweetheart Carol Jeffrey and spent the first few years of his professional career working at U.S. Steel in Lorain, OH, and Pittsburgh, PA, before moving back home to Cedarburg, WI, to serve as VP of Accounting and Data Systems at Badger Meter in Milwaukee. During his tenure at Badger Meter, he was promoted to (acting) General Manager for approximately 18 months until a viable replacement was found. He married his second wife, Nancy, in 1974, and subsequently moved from Grafton to Hartford in 1979. After their divorce in 1982, he moved back to Madison for a few years to assist his parents(father Julius diagnosed with Cancer) with the operation of their nursing home on Monona Drive. He then worked for 6 years at Schneider National Trucking(Bulk Division) in Green Bay as Controller and VP of Accounting. He moved back to Madison in the early 90s to take care of his mother Grace, and worked as a Salesman for several car dealerships in Stoughton and Madison, including Don Miller Subaru and Ahrens Cadillac prior to retirement. For the first 5 years of his retirement, he traveled the world, including 3 trips to Norway.
Don was a sports fanatic his entire life, and enjoyed attending many Badger, Brewer, Bucks, and Packer games. He also enjoyed fishing, hunting, and playing cards as hobbies. However, his greatest love was sharing his passion for life and family traditions with his relatives. He attended as many athletic events of his children and grandchildren as possible, and shared his pride of them and his Norwegian heritage with every person he met.
Don was also very active politically, contacting every U.S. Senator(all 100) and House of Representative member(all 435) multiple times every year from the early 90s on. In his retirement, he was passionate about researching and educating others on topics including Social Security solvency. He also participated in many political forums and called into "talk radio" locally and nationwide.
Donovan "Wheels" Johnson will be remembered for his vibrant and charismatic personality, "gift to gab", service toward others, and fighting for Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness to maintain and improve our indomitable Constitutional Republic. He fought for Our Rights and Freedom his entire life, a True Patriot!!!
In lieu of flowers, donations in Don's name to the Alzheimer's Association Wisconsin Chapter or the charity of your choice are greatly appreciated. Please visit nimsgernfuneral.com for "Celebration of Life" plans, and share online condolences.