Pastor Oscar E. Johnson
Oscar Emmanuel Johnson was born on September 27th, 1920 in Wolbach, Nebraska, the seventh of eight children born to Norwegian immigrants Nels and Lena Johnson. The Johnsons lived among the Danes, and so it happened that Oscar spent his youth and much of his professional life as part of the United (Danish) Evangelical Lutheran Church. He was baptized on October 31 st, 1920 and he confirmed his faith on June 9th, 1935. His family lived for four years in town as his father served as a lay preacher and colporteur (book seller). Most of his childhood, however, was spent on a farm during drought and the Great Depression. As a boy, Oscar enjoyed preaching to the pigs and seemed destined for the ministry. Oscar graduated from high school in St. Paul, Nebraska.
He enrolled at Dana College, arriving with a suitcase and $6, paying for his education by working at the college farm. He graduated from Dana in 1944, subsequently enrolling in Trinity Seminary. The U.S. was in the midst of World War II and Oscar was called to serve. He received a deferment to assist with the harvest at home that fall. However, he contracted polio and was unable to serve in the military. Instead, he went to California and worked building bombers and making enough money to return to school. He was in seminary when he met Dody Jensen, an undergraduate at Dana.
Oscar was beginning his last year of seminary in 1946 when he was involved in an automobile accident on Labor Day weekend that severed his right arm. Oscar returned to school that same fall while also having to learn how to do everything with a crippled (the residual effects ofTB of the bone) left hand. He was fiercely determined to be completely independent ---a determination he retained throughout his life. Oscar graduated from seminary in 1947 and served his first call as youth pastor at Salem Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York. The farm boy loved taking in the experiences of the big city but the call was short due to budgetary constraints. (In 1998 Salem closed and gave itself -church building, savings, and everything.-to the first Arab congregation in the ELCA. That congregation honors the former Danish congregation with its mime -Salaam Lutheran Church.)
His next call was to English Lutheran Church in A voca, Iowa. Founded in the 1930's, English became self supporting during Oscar's ministry. It was while serving in Avoca that he and Dody were married on June 12, 1950. Their first child, David, was born in 1951.
The Home Mission Board of the UELC called Oscar to a struggling mission congregation in Detroit, Michigan in 1952. The congregation grew, became self-supporting and still exists. Located in what was a largely Jewish neigbborhood at the time, the congregation is now predominantly African American. On Christmas Eve day, 1953, Oscar and Dody welcomed twins, Julianne and Paul, to the family. (Oscar led Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services as scheduled.)
In 1960, the family returned to Iowa where Oscar served Immanuel Lutheran in Harlan. That congregation also thrived and built a stunning "Fortress on the Hill", dedicated in 1969. Andy was born in 1961.
In 1971, Oscar felt it was time to move on and he accepted a call to a congregation in need of healing in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. Healing did not seem to be an option, so after nearly 5 years the Johnsons, by then in need of healing themselves, were grateful for Oscar's call to be chaplain at the Cedar Falls Lutheran Home. Here he loved doing "pure ministry", free from council and committee meetings and able to spend his days sharing time with residents in addition to the ministry of Word and Sacrament.
Oscar retired from the Lutheran Home in 1987. He had looked forward to having the freedom to spend his time "putzing" at home, maintaining the yard, doing woodworking, etc. He found, however, that he missed the activity and social contact of ministry and for almost ten years took part-time jobs as visitation pastor at First Lutheran Church in Waterloo and chaplain at Allen Hospital in Waterloo.
Throughout his life, Oscar was an active community volunteer. He served on the boards of Lutheran nursing homes in every community in which he lived. In Harlan he was chair of the district PTA and began regular worship services at the "County Home". While in Cedar Falls, he was a volunteer for Cedar Valley Hospice, serving as a buddy to individuals with HIV/AIDS.
The last 30 years have been enriched by visits to and from Norway with his first cousins. He and Dody also enjoyed wonderful trips to Scandinavia, the Holy Land and other destinations.
Oscar's declining mental and physical capacities caused Oscar and Dody to sell their home in Cedar Falls in 2002 and move to Iowa City to be near family. While the effects of aging, particularly severe hearing and memory loss, eye problems and nearly continual hand tremors, took a heavy toll on Oscar, he found solace in reading the Psalms and joy in attending his grandchildren's concerts and games. He never lost the ability to beat his opponents in a game of pinochle and felt a special kinship with anyone whose metal or physical disabilities prevented their full participation in society. Our beloved husband, Dad and Bedstefar died of heart failure on August 17, 2008, having reached the age of 87 years, 10 months and 20 days. Blessed be his memory.
Services were held at the Zion Lutheran Church, Iowa City, Iowa.
We are grateful to our friends and extended family, members of Zion and the staff of Mercy Hospital for the many kindnesses shown to us during this time.
Dody, Dave and Michele and family, Julie and Judy, Paul and Liz and family and Andy and Kathy and family. Paster Johnson's ashes will be interred in the cemetery at a later time.