Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Alfred 'Willie' William Johnson

HOUGHTON, Mich. - Alfred "Willie" William Johnson, 88, passed away on March 16, 2020, at U.P. Health Portage Hospital.

Willie was born June 29, 1931, in Laurium, the son of the late Ralph and Aleda Johnson, who's family lived at Highway Location and then in Bruce Crossing, as farmers. Willie was united in marriage to the former Luella D. Syria in 1950, who passed away in April 2010.

Willie's first job was taken after completing eighth grade. He quit school to become the farm boss on the family farm and said it set the stage for hard work for his whole career. Willie worked various jobs in his earlier years: for Ontonagon Valley Creamery, Korsman Lumber Supply in Bruce Crossing, as a butcher at the Locker Plant in Ewen, and a teller for the State Bank of Ewen. In 1957, he and Luella opened a Variety Store in Bruce Crossing.

In 1958, he moved the store to Ewen. Eventually that business expanded. He built a new Variety Store which housed the Secretary of State office and a community cafe. The Variety Store endeavors brought Willie a silent partner and mentor, Bill Malner. Bill and Willie entered into business upon what Willie called, an Abe Lincoln hand-shake agreement.

In 1968, he began to sell vehicles at Gil's Auto Exchange and in 1969 became instrumental in developing Big Valley Ford car dealership in Ewen. Ford Motor Company had rewarded Willie and Luella with trips to several countries. He sold it in 1980 to a partnership that included his son, Douglas, and moved to Florida with Luella where he worked for Velde Ford (now Mullinax Ford) in Vero Beach. In 1985 he moved back to the Upper Peninsula and became the owner of Copper Country Ford Lincoln Mercury. He loved being back in the U.P.

His goal was to make his customers feel heard and respected and served well. He believed in training his personnel and strived to keep 23 families working in this area. On his business card until he retired were the words "Be nice to people." He reminded us that everyone is wise about something whether they were academically educated or not. Willie liked a quote from Charles R. Swindoll, "Our attitude is the only string we have to play."

Willie and Luella served the community and embraced many children as their own, who they welcomed into their home. They sought out friends who lived alone, to join them at holiday dinners. Willie and Luella started the Sunday School in the Bruce Crossing Apostolic Lutheran Church where they were active and a loving influence for many years.

Willie was also a Boy Scout leader. He was president of Ewen Development Corporation. He and Luella worked hard to start the Ewen Medical Clinic. They visited nursing homes and provided Finnish and English music for residents. Willie helped Little Brothers in the Copper Country area to deliver holiday meals and gifts, a tradition that several of his grandchildren now enjoy. He would purchase items and send boxes to Iraq. He was committed to helping the Wounded Warrior Project.

He is survived by his children, Jacqueline (Kenneth) Kangas, Chassell, Toni (Michael) Applekamp, Bergland, Catherine (Richard) Wainio, Ewen, Mark Johnson, various locations United States, and David (Paula) Johnson, Hancock; his daughter-in-law, Kathy Johnson, Bruce Crossing; his brother, John (Hazel) Johnson, Houghton; sister, Suzanne (Keith) Sackett of Keweenaw Bay; sister-in-laws, Katherine Johnson of Hancock and Gladys Johnson of Seattle; 12 grandchildren, Gina (Ted Klahn), Jed Hammond, Jana (Kevin) Mokros, Ginelle (Zac) Nagel, Jeremy (Kara) Applekamp, Jarvis (Angela) Applekamp, Gabriel (Marisella) Applekamp, Michelle (Josh) Scott, Kerielle (Michael) Lind, Ian (Shannon) Wainio, Christina(Cody) Kangas, Jessica (Cole) Klein and Meghan (Cory) King; stepgranddaughter, Ashley Niemela (Scott Kratz); 51 great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Preceding him in death were his parents; his son, Douglas Johnson; his siblings, Ralph Elsworth (Jerry), Donald Matthew (infant), Lewis Emil, Howard Leland, Burton Ward, Raymond Harold Patrick, Wesley Herbert Michael, Franklin Delano, Henry Alexander, Charles Edward (infant), Barbara Joy, Aleda Patricia and Grace Ann (infant); and great-grandson, Andrew Klahn.

Willie once wrote: We are capable of more love and kindness, each of us, as moments pass and tick away from our life. Give more as we have a chance to give, in each moment, as our last is soon approaching. Kindness does not cost anything. He had a very positive attitude. He loved telling jokes. He was quoted as saying, "Dying can't be all that bad. I have not seen anybody that has passed, complain about it yet!"

Willie's family would like to thank the personnel at U.P. Portage Health, the Lighthouse in the last months, and Portage Home Health Services, and The Bluffs for the care they gave to Willie over the last years.

Memorial Chapel and Plow Funeral Home are assisting the family with the arrangements. A funeral and celebration of his life will be announced later in the spring at Zion Lutheran Church in Hancock. He will then be laid to rest beside his beloved Luella at the Hillside Cemetery of Bruce Crossing.

In lieu of other expressions of sympathy, Willie requested, memorials may be directed to: Ontonagon County Cancer Association, P.O. Box 282, Ontonagon, MI 49953, in memory of his son Douglas Dean Johnson.

To view Willie's obituary or to send condolences to the family please visit

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