Anoka County History: Memories of Robert W. Johnson

“Memories.” Barbra Streisand sang it. The song often echoes in my head.

Former Anoka County Attorney Robert W. Johnson died in November 2010 at the age of 93.
Former Anoka County Attorney Robert W. Johnson died in November 2010 at the age of 93.

I will be 90 in May this year and get kidded a lot by other board members here at the Anoka County Historical Society.

Like, “Tom, tell us what it was like during the war of 1812.” Most of what I write about I can say that I was there.

I wrote earlier this month about Les Mason. One of the men mentioned in that story as one of the pallbearers at Mason’s funeral was Bob Johnson, the man who was the county attorney longer than anyone in Anoka County history.

There is so much written about this man and all his accomplishments.

We have a great file on him here at the History Center. It includes some of his athletic accomplishments as well as his legal career.

I want to add some of my connections with him to the file.

In 1939, I moved from St Ann’s School (now St. Stephens) to the eighth grade in the new addition at the Anoka High School.

I went out for football. In those days the eighth and ninth graders were called “The Bombers.”

Butch Nash was our new coach that year and on the first day of practice he introduced a big young man to us as his helper. It was Bob Johnson.

Bob played guard and tackle positions at the University of Minnesota under the legendary coach, Bernie Bierman.

The teams that Bob played on won two Big Ten Championships and one national championship…..a record not equaled since.

Can you imagine what it meant to us 12- and 13-year-old kids to meet this football star and to be coached by him?

In Bob’s senior year at Anoka, the football team was not scored on for the entire season.

That year he was named All-State in track, basketball, and football. Bob was also state champion in shot put at the age of 16.

Some other memories of mine were his close friends Sen. and Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Gov. Orville Freeman, both of whom I also called my friends.

Bob and Orville were more than best friends. Bob was best man at Orville and Jane’s wedding, and Orville was best man at Bob and Char’s wedding.

When I was in the stock and bond business I had many visits with Bob’s older brother Maury Johnson, who was president of one of largest banks in Louisville, Ky.

I also knew Bob’s father, A.D.W. Johnson, who was known around town as “ADW.” He was known for his famous hand shake. He did not let go until you said “ouch.”

I told Bob one day that his dad would not shake hands with me anymore. Bob told me his dad told him it was because he could not make me say “ouch.”

I told Bob that it really did hurt and I said “ouch” after he left.

“ADW” was in the building tile business.

Whenever I see a red tile silo, barn, milk house or home in Anoka County and the surrounding counties I think “ADW” which brings me right back to Robert W. Johnson, who is now a legendary man.

Editor’s note: Tom Ward serves on the board of the Anoka County Historical Society.

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