On October 2, 2023, with family at his bedside, Harlan Johnson passed away, due to complications following surgery, at CentraCare Hospital in Saint Cloud, MN. A time of remembering Harlan will be held on Saturday, October 28, 2023. At 2 p.m. any who wish may join family at Fredens Lund Cemetery, four miles south of Elbow Lake on County Highway 54. Continuing from 3 – 5 p.m. will be a time of honoring Harlan’s memory at Rachel Rollie’s home at 119 8th Ave. NE in Elbow Lake, MN.
Harlan Melvin Johnson was born in Fergus Falls, MN on March 1, 1949, the first of two children born to Melvin Harold and Josephine Leonore (Milen) Johnson. Two and a half years later, sister Luanne joined the family. Growing up on a farm three miles southeast of Elbow Lake, MN, life was filled with adventure. Days were spent exploring in the woods, slough, and fields surrounding the farm, trapping gophers, playing ball in the yard, walking the Soo Line Railroad tracks, and fun times at nearby Long Lake, on ice skates in wintertime and along the shoreline in summer. Get-togethers with aunts, uncles, and cousins, with the occasional picnic or evening spent fishing, were great childhood memories.
Harlan attended school in Elbow Lake, graduating with the Elbow Lake-Wendell Golden Eagles Class of 1967. Hunting became a great source of enjoyment to Harlan in his teen years. He had many fun-filled duck hunting exploits and times together with friends, Steve Lang and Dave Balgaard. Harlan was a self-taught musician, picking up on the baritone, ukulele, and guitar. Family tells of memorable visits, when to everyone’s delight, using an exaggerated Swedish brogue, songs such as “I Yust Don’t Give a Hoot” and “Svanson, Svenson, and Yenson” were sung by him. “The party was in Harlan’s room!” is fondly remembered. He also had an artistic flair and created some interesting wood-burned pieces that are now treasured.
Harlan was baptized on May 8, 1949. His Faith journey continued in his home, at Barrett Covenant Church, and later with Confirmation at Kensington Covenant Church. While in the Navy, he wrote home to say he’d made the commitment to trust in his Good Shepherd, Jesus.
Harlan enlisted in the US Navy and served from 1968-1972, with most of that time spent on board the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, where he was assigned as a boiler tender. After discharge, he returned home to Elbow Lake and resumed the usual family gatherings and times with friends. Duck hunting on Long Lake with neighbor and friend, Doug Ostenson along with brother-in-law, Roger, was greatly enjoyed during that time.
In late 1973, Harlan’s life was affected by life-altering mental illness. After treatment, there was a recovery followed by several good years. On September 3, 1977 Harlan was united in marriage to Nila Venzke. They were blessed with two beautiful daughters, Jennifer Elizabeth in 1979, and Rebecca Ann in 1981. The marriage ended in divorce when, sadly, he again experienced acute mental illness.
In the following years Harlan eventually, with support from the Veterans Administration, settled in a Board and Care home in Saint Cloud, MN. Through his years of living there, the staff were kind and supportive. In spite of the family’s efforts to reach out to him, they respected Harlan’s wishes of having no contact with him.
In April of 2022, Harlan moved to The Watkins House in Watkins, MN. A few months later, staff (thank you, H.B., RN) reached out to Harlan’s family, telling them of his move there, that he was doing well, and was open to family visits. So, after nearly forty years, a time of joy and thanksgiving began for his family, getting to reconnect, know, hug, and love the father, grandfather, brother, and uncle that had so long been missing from their lives.
Do those who have known and loved him desire that Harlan’s life-story reads differently? Of course. But, as promised, the “Jesus, Tender Shepherd” of his childhood nighttime prayer has been faithful to Harlan, and has welcomed him Home to joyfully join these dear ones who have gone before him, including: his parents, Melvin and Josephine Johnson, brother-in-law Roger Rollie, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.
Harlan is survived by his daughters, Jennifer (Daniel) O’Donnell and their children David and Grace, and Rebecca Trotman and her son, Simon; sister, Luanne Rollie; nieces, Rachel Rollie and Laura (Kevin) Erlandson; former wife, Nila Venzke, by staff and those who live at the Watkins House, as well as by extended family members and friends.