Johnson remembered for community knowledge, service
WORTHINGTON -- From his longtime membership in Worthington's Noon Kiwanis Club, 18 years of service as member of the District 518 school board and, of course, his optometry practice, plenty of people got to know Sterling Johnson over the years.
He got to know them, too, and according to his son, Roger, had a remarkable ability to retain information.
"He really knew the interconnection of people in the community," said Roger of his father, who died Wednesday at the age of 89. "He could remember names of people so well, and all sorts of things about them."
Johnson was best known in Worthington for operating Johnson Eye Clinic, which opened in 1950 on the corner of 10th Street and Third Avenue, above what is now Rolling Hills Bank & Trust. He would later practice at a second location on 10th Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues before moving into a new building in December 1971, Roger said. Johnson Eye Clinic remains at the same location -- at the corner of 10th Street and Eighth Avenue -- today, with Roger and other son Wally in charge.
"He continually taught me a lot of things," Roger said. "You come out of college and have all this background and training, but then there's the knowledge of dealing with patients, and learning to be compassionate and caring. He was always sensitive to his patients' needs and concerns. ... He would never take advantage of people, but treat them fairly."
Johnson was born in Walnut Grove and later moved with his family to Pingree, N.D., where he graduated from high school. He attended Jamestown (N.D.) College, and then went on to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
After his military service, Johnson came to Worthington and taught mathematics for two years at Worthington High School, also serving as assistant principal. Then, through the GI Bill, he went to Chicago, Ill., to study at the Northern Illinois College of Optometry, returning to Worthington after completing coursework there.
In addition to his Kiwanis membership and school board tenure, Johnson served three years as an alderman-at-large on the Worthington City Council. He was a member of the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, from which he received the Community Service Award in 1997. He also served on the Worthington Area YMCA's board when that facility's swimming pool was installed in 1960.
"He was a good role model," Roger said. "He taught me not just about caring for your own concerns, but for your community. He was always wanting to do things to make the community a better place."
Jim Kinsman of Worthington recalled Johnson as a teacher of his while in school, as well as a longtime neighbor. Both were active members in Worthington's First Baptist Church.
"He's been a friend ever since high school," Kinsman said. "He's just a nice guy. He would tell me that he once had a picture of me at the chalkboard when he was teaching, and he said I had my foot on a ledge or something and doing a problem on the board . ... He got such a kick out of that.
"We got along so well," Kinsman continued. "We moved away from here and went down to Arizona for 17 years. ... Their whole family came and stayed at our place.
"We used to tell each other a lot of jokes. He was just a good friend, and I'm going to miss him a lot. He's one of the people you just liked, and he would do anything for you. He was the nicest Christian man I've ever met."
Visitation for Johnson will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday at Benson Funeral Home, Worthington. The service will be 10:30 a.m. Monday at First Baptist Church.