American Veteran 04

Harold W. Johnson

July 7, 1924 ~ September 1, 2023 (age 99) 99 Years Old
Read more about the life story of Harold and share your memory.    


After an extraordinarily long and full life, former Escanaba coach, athletic director, and assistant 

principal Harold William Johnson passed away in Escanaba on September 1st at the age of 99.

Harold was born in Felch, MI, the 8th and final child of Swedish immigrants. At the age of 3 years

he lost his mother to tuberculosis, so the task of raising him fell to his eldest sister, Evangeline,

who was forced to drop out of school. With 4 older sisters doting on him and 3 older brothers

teaching him to fight and play sports, he grew up strong and self-confident in the hills and

forests and fields surrounding the Johnson family home, skiing and ski-jumping on home-made

skis, hunting when food was needed, running traplines to make a few bucks from furs, and

most of all, playing baseball and basketball every chance, he could. And when he wasn’t outside

he was, for as long as he could remember, sketching with pencil and paper, drawing ballplayers

and soldiers and scenes from Felch, for he hoped someday to become a professional artist. In

8 th grade his design was chosen for the Felch High School logo. When he was 14 his father died

and sports became his escape and obsession. He joined the Felch town baseball team and

starred on a high school basketball team that was the best Felch had ever seen. After

graduating at age 16 he moved to Chicago where two of his sisters lived, found employment at

a factory, and enrolled in a professional artist program at the Chicago Art Institute. But the year

was 1941 and world events would soon interrupt his plans.

When the war came along Harold enlisted in the U.S. Army, his exceptionally keen vision and

years of hunting experience leading to assignment as a machine gunner and chief of a 4-man

anti-aircraft crew. He sat in a rotating turret with four 50 caliber machine guns, mounted on the

back of a flatbed truck, and fought his way across France, Belgium, and Germany, all the way to

Berlin. Years later his hearing would be diagnosed as a total loss.

After the war, Harold returned to Felch, worked cutting pulp, and re-joined the Felch town

baseball team (where he played until his mid-40s). When opportunity knocked in the form of

the G.I. Bill he enrolled at Michigan State University, though not as an art major, for the war

had changed him. Now he wanted something more vigorous that allowed him to compete and

take advantage of his other God-given talent: athletics. He wanted to become a coach.

That same year another life-changing event occurred. At his cousin’s home in Iron Mountain, he

met Nina Peterson, destined to become his bride and true love for 75 wonderful years. They

were married the following year, September 13, 1947, at First Lutheran Church in Iron

Mountain, then together caught a train around Lake Michigan to begin Harold’s second year at

MSU. While Harold attended classes and played on the State baseball team, hard-working Nina

earned their living expenses as a bookkeeper. Harold turned down an offer to play baseball

professionally, opting instead for a stable family life with Nina.

Following Harold’s graduation, the young couple moved back to Felch where Harold had been

hired as a teacher and basketball and baseball coach. From scrap lumber they built a small, one-

room home. Nina worked in the office at the Felch school and prepared meals for teachers until

their first child, Jay, was born in 1951. The basketball team Harold coached won the district

championship, the only Felch team to do so besides the one he’d played on. To broaden his

coaching experience, Harold and family took a year and a half sojourn to the downstate town of

Lake Odessa, where their second child, Terri, was born in 1955. This added experience was just

what John Lemmer, superintendent of Escanaba Area Public Schools, was looking for. He hired

Harold and the young family moved to the “big city” of Escanaba.

At Escanaba High School, Harold taught gym classes and coached baseball, basketball, football,

and track. In the summers, he worked on a master’s degree in school administration at

Michigan State and Northern Michigan. Eventually, he became athletic director and assistant

principal and narrowed his coaching duties to just basketball. Following his final season of

coaching, 1966-67, he was named U.P. Coach of the Year and in 1991 he was inducted into the

U.P. Sports Hall of Fame. In 1986, after 38 years in education, Harold retired and began

traveling around the country with Nina in their camper van. With Nina’s urging he took oil

painting classes at Bay and found his artistic talent still intact, his teacher claiming he was the

best student she’d ever had. In 1996 Harold and Nina were blessed with the birth of a

grandson, Chase Parker. Harold loved children and often played with Chase, just as he had with

his own kids. During their long years of retirement, they spent many winter months in Arizona

and Florida, often socializing with other snowbirds from Escanaba. Summers found them at

their Round Lake cottage named “Liten Skog Hem” (“Little Forest Home”) by Harold. He loved

being in the woods and he especially loved being at this place that he’d built with his own

hands. He also loved gardening and caring for his lawn, shrubs, and trees in Escanaba.

Harold was very active in the Escanaba community, serving as president of Kiwanis and the

Bethany Lutheran Church Council and singing in the Bethany Choir. He was a member of the

Swedish Club and American Legion and played in the men’s golf league at the Escanaba Country

Club until age 95. Until his last days he was an avid follower of all sports, especially Esky High

School teams.

Harold is survived by his two children, Jay Johnson and Terri Parker (Landon) and his grandson

Chase Parker, as well as many nieces, nephews, and their children.

Harold’s funeral will be held at Bethany Lutheran Church in Escanaba at 11 am on October 7,

with visitation at 10 am and a luncheon to follow in the Fellowship Room below. Donations may

be made to the Harold and Nina Johnson Special Music Fund at Bethany Lutheran. The Anderson Funeral Homes of Escanaba and Gladstone are assisting the Johnson family with the arrangements and online condolences can be sent to the family at

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Harold W. Johnson, please visit our floral store.


October 7, 2023

10:00 AM to 7:00 PM
Bethany Lutheran Church (Escanaba)
Guaranteed delivery before the Visitation begins

Funeral Service
October 7, 2023

11:00 AM
Bethany Lutheran Church (Escanaba)
Guaranteed delivery before the Funeral Service begins

Online Memory & Photo Sharing Event
Online Event

In Loving Memory Of

Harold Johnson

July 7, 1924-September 1, 2023

Look inside to read what others
have shared

Family and friends are coming together online to create a special keepsake. Every memory left on the online obituary will be automatically included in the book.   

Online Memory & Photo Sharing Event
Online Event


In Loving Memory Of

Harold Johnson

July 7, 1924-September 1, 2023

Look inside to read what others have shared

Family and friends are coming together online to create a special keepsake. Every memory left on the online obituary will be automatically included in the book.   


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