Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Story of Valdemar "Wally" Peder Johansen

Valdemar “Wally” Peder Johansen
4.27.1922 – 11.2.2014

Valdemar was born in Luck,Wisconsin to parents Jens Ansgar & Frederikke Johansen.  He was one of 5 children.  Halvdan, Ane Marie, Christian all preceded him in death, leaving sister Johanne to mourn.  He passed peacefully early Sunday morning, 11/2/2014 at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire from complications of surgery.   His heart slowed to a stop as if he gently had his foot on the brake as he approached his destination.  Valdemar lived 92 years with good health and a big smile.  He was living in Belmond, Iowa at the time of his death.

A memorial service & internment of ashes will be held on December 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm at West Denmark Lutheran Church in Luck, WI.  Coffee will follow at West Denmark Parrish Hall.

Valdemar attended school at Laketown School & Luck High School in Luck, WI.   School was important, but community in those days revolved around the West Denmark Church and the youth groups associated with the church.   His mother was one of 9 children with 7 sisters; all but one of those sisters raised their families in the West Denmark area.  About 39 first cousins called West Denmark home and they were all close friends and enjoyed spending their youth together in work and play.

Wally enjoyed folk dancing as a young man and he was part of a group that performed in Danish costume.  But he really loved dancing of all kinds, and he shared fun stories of Dunham and Wilson’s, Calderwood, West Sweden, and other dance halls in the area.  Valdemar played the violin as a young man and just recently put new strings on it and was hoping to give it another try.

He went by ‘Wally’ but he always preferred Valdemar and it made him smile when new acquaintances pronounced it correctly.  Conversely, he did not appreciate when anyone pronounced it as ‘Vlademeer’, and he would give the unlucky person the business if they made that mistake.

As a young man, Valdemar spent time in the Dakotas during threshing season.  Old photos show him there with his first cousins Aage Petersen and Vernon Petersen.   A few years ago, he reconnected with the family where he had stayed and worked in Lidgerwood, ND.

He told of one winter when he and his Dad, Ansgar, cut fence posts out of a Tamarac swamp near their home on Country Trunk N.   Wally said this was the most fun he ever had in the winter, working with his Dad everyday.  He worked with his Dad and Niels Mortensen on many projects around the community, as he fine tuned his trade of cabinet making and learned a few other trades.

Wally also lived in California for a few years and worked as a milk tester.  There were friends and relatives living in the Solvang area and he really enjoyed this work.  He had an offer to return to California after the war to take a job as county agent, but stayed in Wisconsin instead.

Valdemar served proudly with the US Navy Seabees, 62nd Battalion, who were attached to the 5th Division of the US Marines during the battle at Iwo Jima.  In preparation for arriving in Iwo Jima, he spent time on Maui and Oahu, Hawaii to break in big equipment and also to learn their operation.   He was honorably discharged in 1945 on December 17 as a Carpenter’s Mate Third Class.  He endured many years of delayed stress syndrome and after finding treatment in his later years, was a strong advocate of mental health for returning soldiers.

Also in 1945, he married Pauline Bjornton Carlson of Minneapolis.  Four children were born to this marriage:  Ralph, Glenn, Wanda & Laila.  The Johansen family lived on County Trunk N just West of Luck, Wisconsin, across the road from Valdemar’s parents, Ansgar and Frederikke.

As a young married man, Wally had a business in Milltown called Indianhead Woodproducts.  Their main products were church pews and other church furniture.  Unfortunately that business ended with a fire in December of 1960.

He moonlighted as a bartender at the Mill Inn on main street Milltown for a few years and made many friends.  He joined a hunting group, The Highland View Lodge, with other Milltown friends Ray Shern, Carol Cogswell, Al Sorenson, ‘Shorty’ Beaulieu, John Dann, Swede Johnson, Bob Blumgren, Erling Nielsen, & Art Shern.  All of his life he enjoyed deer hunting in Wisconsin, and even made a few elk hunting trips out West.  The most fun for Wally were the hours spent with his sons and grandsons at ‘the shack’; he loved to play poker or cribbage, to enjoy a cocktail and to tell a tale or two.  Laughing was his trademark; he was quick to smile and to make others laugh.  In later years it was more the cards, the storytelling and spending time with his boys that made hunting so much fun for him.

After Indianhead Woodproducts was gone, he worked for many years installing for Ossit Furniture out of Janesville, WI.  This work took him all around the country.  He spoke often about working in New York City, but he also could name a church in many Wisconsin towns where he had installed pews or chancel furniture.

In 1968, Wally & Pauline moved to Lakewood, CO.  Wally took a job working for former Luck businessman, Clyde Brown, running Western Seating, a church furniture factory located in Golden, CO.

While living in Lakewood, Wally joined American Legion Post #17 in Edgewater, Colorado.  He was very involved in the post, including the design and building of a new facility and was elected Commander.  He was a lifetime member of the American Legion and the VFW at the time of his death.  He took great pride in the fact that his front license plate on his car was the VFW Lifetime Member plate.

In 1970, he and Pauline divorced and he moved to Wheat Ridge, CO.  One of his employees at the time was from Belmond, IA and eventually, there was a job offer from Four Seasons Cabinetry of  Belmond, IA.   So, in 1975 he moved to Goodell, IA and began making new friends.  He golfed at the Klemme Golf Course and eventually joined the Board of Directors there.  He spent time with friends at the VFW, where he met the bartender, Evalee O’Toole, which started the beginning of a relationship that was meant to be.

Eventually, Valdemar opened Johansen Cabinetry in Belmond, IA and began doing custom cabin work.  His product included the design, handcraftsmanship and installation of fine wood products.  Business was good, & his work was in demand until he decided to retire.  His shop space was rented from Jim Swenson, who soon grew to be like another son to Valdemar, and when Jim later married Janette, another daughter was added to Valdemar’s family.

Valdemar & Evalee were married in 1988 and enjoyed 26 fun filled years together.  They loved ballroom dancing and spent many evenings on the dance floor, in fact if there was a flat surface, they would likely dance on it.  They bought a travel trailer after they retired and began to spend winters down South.  One of Valdemar’s goals was to wear shorts every day of the year.  Several years were spent in Arkansas at the Charlton National Forest Campground where they served as host & hostess.  Wally was the handyman and the two of them groomed the campsites to perfection.

Several more winters were spent in Hemphill, Texas, camping in a fishing village and enjoying the mild weather.  Then they found a spot in Rockport, Texas, Harbor Light.  This was a fun village of snow birds with events catering to that group.  They made life long friends during these winter stays.

Once they were done pulling a trailer to Texas, they continued to drive down and stay in an Inn near Rockport, TX that catered to folks from Up North who wintered in the warm climate.  Close friends were made over penny poker games and good Mexican food.

Cribbage was his game.  He loved to play and many times he was the winner and then could have fun teasing his losing opponent, which usually led to another game or two.  He played weekly with a group at his apartment building in Belmond, and often came home a winner.

Many summers were spent in Sterling Township in a cabin owned by son Ralph.  Wally & Ev loved feeding & watching the birds, seeing the wildlife, keeping the cabin grounds maintained, having coffee on the front porch and a night cap on the back porch.  They loved their time in the woods and took care of this cabin as if it was their own.

In the early 1950s, the 62nd Battalion of the Navy Seabees began having reunion gatherings.  Valdemar attended as many of these as he could.  His Seabee mates meant a lot to him and he was proud of his & their service during WWII and on Iwo Jima.  Somewhere in the 1990’s, Wally & Ev became the custodians of that group and their reunion planning.  It was a labor of love and something that they were devoted to.  The last gathering of this group marked their 61st reunion.  Wally was known as “Joe” to this group and he was the glue that kept folks in contact through the years.  He was patriotic to the bone; he respected the flag and he loved his country.

In 2009, Wally was part of an Honor Flight to Washington, DC.  This was a thrill for him and an amazing opportunity provided by volunteers.  In one day, they flew from Iowa to DC, visited the WWII Memorial and most, if not all, the other major memorials, and then flew home that night.  He smiled the entire time.

Wally and Ev looked forward to Lawrence Welk every Saturday night and at the end of each program, Lawrence would say "Keep a song in your heart".  This has been inscribed on the Johansen headstone bench at the West Denmark Cemetery.

Valdemar is survived by his sister Johanne (Thorvald) Hansen of Des Moines, IA, sons Ralph (Lois) of Luck, WI & Glenn (Kathy) of Spring Valley, WI and daughters Wanda of Rice Lake, WI & Laila of Aurora, CO & step children: Rick (Pat) O’Toole of Cedar Rapids, IA; Teri (Al) Jenniges of Garner, IA; Larry (Diane) O’Toole of Forest City, IA; Jeff (Pat) O’Toole of Fertile, IA

Also left to carry on his legacy are grandsons Ryan (Camilla), Kyle (Heather), Kris (Lora), Andrew (Michelle), Dana (Erin) and granddaughters Angie (Aaron) Chivers, Krista (Mark) Loyas and Kaija (Mike) Vanasse and more than 25 great grandchildren, 2 step-great grandchildren and 2 great great grandchildren.  Additionally the O’Toole family grandchildren and great grandchildren, along with Valdemar’s nephews and nieces mourn his passing.

He was preceded in death by his Father & Mother, Ansgar & Frederikke Johansen, brothers Halvdan & Christian, sister Ane Marie James and great grandson Drew Chivers.

Just 56 days before his death, he lost his beloved wife of 26 years, Evalee O'Toole Johansen. This was a shocking blow to Wally and he missed her so very much.  But, he said of this loss “I have accepted that this has happened, I realize I cannot do anything to change it, and now I just have to get the right attitude about it.”  These words have brought comfort to his children as they deal with the shock of losing their Dad.

Wally & Ev never missed watching Dancing with the Stars together, no doubt missing the dancing that they had done together for so many years, so now, together again, we believe that they are Dancing In the Stars.

Memorials to West Denmark Lutheran Church, 2478 170th StLuck, WI 54853 or
Luck Alumni Scholarship Fund Association, P.O. Box 251   Luck, WI  54853


Bruce Hanson said...

He was an amazing man - will always have great memories at the cabin with Valdemar. Thx for sharing AW!

Jo Sunder said...

I'm so sorry to hear of your loss, Wanda. Al R. let us know today. Please know that you are in our thoughts.

Joanne Sundermeier

Jo Sunder said...

I'm so sorry to hear of your loss, Wanda. Al R. let us know today. Please know that you are in our thoughts.

Joanne Sundermeier

Paul W. Konopacki said...

Here Elaine and I are sitting in our motel room in St. Croix, watching the finale of Dancing With The Stars, looking for pictures of the Dane School where we will be staying for a few days over Thanksgiving. We discovered the best photos of the apartment on Wanda's blog site. Some of the photos referenced the work of Valdemar, who I knew as Wally from Danish events at West Denmark, Wisconsin.

How interesting to read this blog post of Wally's life, especially the fact that he and Ev used to watch Dancing With The Stars together. Made me look up from my laptop on the motel room table and take a long look at myself in the mirror ... thinking I should be savoring the time that Elaine and I share the same interest as Wally and Ev did.

Wanda said...

Thank you Paul!


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