Johnson family honors brother’s wishes to transform lives through education

Johnson family honors brother’s wishes to transform lives through education

February 11, 2022

donor don johnson portrait

Donald “Don” R. Johnson had a big heart for young people, especially those who were struggling. He understood how a college education could dramatically impact a person’s future. Because of this passion, Johnson has left a portion of his estate for student scholarships at the place where he held his career, Anoka-Ramsey Community College. He was hired in 1968 as the librarian and retired 29 years later as the senior librarian, having impacted so many lives.

Johnson’s parents were born to Swedish and Norwegian immigrants that homesteaded in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Though his parents were not able to attend school beyond the eighth grade they felt very strongly about the value of education. His parents stressed to their children how important continuing one’s education beyond high school would impact generations to come. Growing up, Johnson and his family lived near the University of Minnesota. His parents took the family to attend public events there, especially lectures at the Bell Museum of Natural History. Thus, instilling in him passion for higher education. Johnson graduated from the University of Minnesota with honors but did not stop learning. He then earned two master’s degrees, becoming an ordained pastor, a teacher, as well as librarian.

Johnson’s appetite for education fueled his desire to support students with academic talent, but also financial constraints. During his 29-year career, he focused on connecting with bright students who required financial support. In fact, he had a knack for locating students who had a financial hardship that prevented them from graduating. Over his career, Johnson helped many students succeed, but because of his humble personality, the true number of lives changed will never be known.

After an enjoyable retirement, Johnson’s health declined, but his desire to help students achieve soared. To establish a legacy, Johnson has left a part of his estate to Anoka-Ramsey, to serve the students he had the most compassion for. But this was no ordinary endowment. His wish was to create a fund that bolstered students while it honored his mother and the wisdom she shared on the importance of education. The name of the fund will be called the Nettie Johnson Memorial Scholarship. It is the largest singular gift received at Anoka-Ramsey Community College Coon Rapids Campus Foundation.

The Nettie Johnson Memorial Scholarship will support first generation students as well as talented students who have a financial need. The scholarships will be open to all students who are enrolled at the Anoka-Ramsey Coon Rapids Campus.

“Planned giving is a selfless act of service to others. The financial support strengthens our student’s ambition and ensures that education is attainable, especially for those who cannot do it on their own,” said Lindsey Schiller, Anoka-Ramsey foundation development director. “We are honored to help honor Don and his families’ legacy.”

The foundations at Anoka-Ramsey are grateful for the support from individuals and corporate donors who help make college affordable and accessible to individuals in the community who dream of pursuing a post-secondary education.

If you would like to add to Don’s legacy or would like to learn more about the foundation, visit or contact Development Director, Lindsey Schiller, at 763-433-1352 or