Local resident Norman Johnson is still active and enjoying life at 100.
“It has been a good life so far,” he said.
He attributes his longevity to living a clean life – no smoking, no drinking and no gambling. Though he admits he did just win a bet.
Last week, his son bet that he could not get on a motorcycle. They went for a 20-minute ride, and Miles had to pay on the $10 bet.
Johnson says he has no regrets that he recalls.
He is best known as a farmer who retired and then raised pumpkins until just a few years ago.
He served on the St. Lawrence Town Board for 30 years and was town chairman for six years.
He is one of the few in the area who was raised speaking Norwegian. His father came from Norway at the age of 18, and his mother’s parents came from Norway.
“When I started school, I could hardly talk English,” he said. “But most of the other kids could also speak Norwegian.”
He has seen a lot of changes in 100 years.
The biggest change is there are less farmers, he said.
Also, “life has gotten quite a bit more complicated,” Johnson said. “People have too many distractions nowadays and are too reliant on computers and technology.”
A life of changes
Although he grew up in a rural area, world events impacted his life.
He lived through the Great Depression and the droughts of the 1930s.
“The Depression gave me the opportunity to buy my first car for $115,” he said.
That car was a 1929 Ford Essex Coupe.
As a farmer, he was exempt from the World War II draft, but he vividly recalls hearing on the radio that Pearl Harbor was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941.
It was a moment that changed his life.
“Martha and I were visiting friends in Weyauwega,” he said. “When (the bombing) happened, I said to her, ‘Maybe we should get married.'”
They were married in April of 1942.
Norman and Martha raised three children – Miles, Alene and Derva. They now have eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Martha died in 2007.
Norman was born on Poverty Hill Road in the town of Scandinavia to Martin and Serena Johnson on Nov. 4, 1914.
Two years later, his parents purchased a farm on Black Lake Road in the town of St. Lawrence. He grew up helping on the farm and milking cows by hand.
During his teenage years, the family tilled 65 acres with three horses.
“We sometimes used all three horses when harrow rolling,” he recalled. “It pulled that hard, depending on how big of a one you had.”
He explained that the spring-tooth harrow was a wheel-less machine used to smooth a plowed row.
The Johnson farm was one of the first in the area to purchase a milk machine and a barn cleaner.
“I remember getting the barn cleaner,” Johnson said. “Then we could have more cows.”
In 1946, Johnson was the first farmer in the area to have a rubber-wheeled tractor. His Ford Ferguson was the only rubber-wheeled tractor between Ogdensburg and Iola.
“Howard Jenson was using a steel-wheeled tractor for threshing and it got stuck,” he said. “I pulled it out and then we used my tractor.”
In those early days, Johnson did a lot of custom work for farmers in Scandinavia, Ogdensburg, St. Lawrence, Helvetia and Iola. Mostly he picked corn and baled hay.
“There weren’t too many tractors around, but there got to be a lot of them in a hurry,” he said.
He operated the 165-acre farm after his parents retired and purchased it in 1952. He eventually grew the farm to about 250 acres and 35 milk cows.
Norman and Martha sold the farm in 1977 and built a log house on a nearby hilltop.
During his retirement years, Johnson did a lot of traveling. He says he has visited all but four states.
He even had the chance to visit Norway, the land of his ancestors.
“After being in Norway, I saw everything I needed to see,” he said.
His greatest joys in life have been his family, farming, traveling and raising pumpkins, in that order.
“I gradually got into selling pumpkins after selling the farm, but I had raised them as a teenager,” he said. “I like how you plant those little seeds and they grow up and you have a pumpkin.”
He continued raising and selling pumpkins, squash and gourds until the age of 96.
Friends and family helped Johnson celebrate at an open house on Sunday, Nov. 2.