Pioneers of Skagit County honored

Photo: Solveig Lee Members of the Johnson family with spokesman Larry in the hat.

Photo: Solveig Lee
Members of the Johnson family with spokesman Larry in the hat.

Solveig Lee
Mount Vernon, Wash.

The 112th-annual picnic of the Skagit County Pioneer Association took place on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016, at Pioneer Park in LaConner. Maynard Axelson, president, presided over the program. This year the Johnson family of Cedardale—Alfred, Herman, Edvin, and Ida—was honored as Pioneer Family of the Year. Don Wick of Mount Vernon was honored with the Pioneer Spirit Award.

The year was 1888 when Herman and Alfred Johnson left their native land in Oster Tolerud, Sweden. They took the route of many in those days—sailing the Atlantic Ocean and entering America through New York City, with a destination of San Francisco. In time, they headed north, spent time in Tacoma, and, in 1891, arrived in Cedardale, an area south of Mount Vernon, Washington. Their brother Ed followed in 1889. Alfred’s wife, Augusta; children; and sister, Ida, arrived in 1890. Ida Johnson traveled a different path: Tacoma, San Francisco, then Dawson, Yukon Territory, and, after marriage in 1908, moved to Skagit County.

For the program, the grandchildren of the Johnson family led the crowd with the flag salute. Knut Bell, a local country music singer, sang a special tribute to Larry Johnson, his barber when Johnson owned the “Gay 90s Barbershop” in Mount Vernon.

Larry, who now lives on Johnson Island, Lake Cavanaugh, was the family spokesman. He reflected on what life was like when he was young—how the people lived, how they helped each other, and worked together. The Johnsons farmed and he talked about driving a tractor at age 10. He remembers how well they were fed: “The old Scandinavian ladies knew how to cook.” Transportation was by horse and buggy. As teenagers, he and the Morrison boys would go to an area known as Lee’s Woods, climb on stumps, and feed the horses sugar lumps they brought from home. It was three miles to town. There, they enjoyed vaudeville or made their way to Little Mountain. At home, lutefisk would be stacked and dried by the door.

The Johnson family has contributed greatly to the community. Alfred became a director of the Skagit County Dairymen’s Association, a school director, and a road supervisor. Herman’s grandson, Maynard, studied medicine at the University of Oregon and joined a practice with Dr. George Boynton in Mount Vernon. In 1971, Maynard and other doctors formed Skagit Valley Hospital.

Photo: Solveig Lee Don Wick, winner of the Pioneer Spirit Award, addresses the attendees in his Viking hat.

Photo: Solveig Lee
Don Wick, winner of the Pioneer Spirit Award, addresses the attendees in his Viking hat.

Don Wick received the 2016 Pioneer Spirit Award. To be considered for this award, one needed to be a “steward to the legacy of Skagit County,” and there was no question but that Don should be a recipient.

Born in Seattle of Norwegian and Scottish heritage, Don graduated from Ballard High School, earned a BA in communications at Western Washington University, then began his first job at KBRC Radio in Mount Vernon. In 1974, he became the news director, program director, and station manager for 15 years. Don became known as the “Voice of the Cardinals” for the Skagit Valley basketball team when he and Fred Lee, a local barber, provided the commentary.

In 1984, Don became executive director of the Economic Development Association of Skagit County, a position he held for 28 years. His responsibility was to attract new businesses to Skagit Valley while expanding jobs for existing businesses. He noted that the farmers and loggers all worked together. Through the years, there was much growth in retail and manufacturing. He was instrumental in founding “Leadership Skagit.”

Don is very proud of his Norwegian heritage. At the picnic he donned his Viking helmet and dress and took to the podium. He said, “Norwegians are the smartest people on earth. It wasn’t drugs; it was lutefisk they legalized.”

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 9, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.