A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

Reporter named grand marshal for Ma & Pa Kettle Days

Kettle River will be transformed Saturday, Aug. 13 as the small town celebrates the 38th year of the Ma & Pa Kettle Days celebration. Exhibitors and vendors will line both sidewalks "fair style," running down the main street of Kettle River. People who come to celebrate will wander along, enjoying each exhibit, able to ask questions at the various stations showcasing Kettle River and the surrounding area.

Lois Johnson - longtime local writer, reporter, and member of many of the local organizations - was chosen grand marshal for this year's event. Johnson has covered the Ma & Pa Kettle Days for over 30 years, interviewing and reporting on each year's grand marshals and the Ma & Pa Kettle couple chosen by the local community.

Her camera has captured moments during the celebration and much more in the local papers. Johnson estimated she has done more than 1,000 interviews in the area over her career, which continues with the Pine Knot News. Over the years, Johnson has covered Moose Lake, Barnum and Willow River schools, local city councils, township and county government, and countless businesses.

Johnson attended Fond du Lac Community College and University of Wisconsin Superior to earn a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She worked for the Arrowhead Leader for Ruth Hansen, Skip Hansen and finally Denise Blake. Her work at the Moose Lake Star-Gazette was well received by the locals, and she is particularly proud of the 100th Anniversary of the 1918 Centennial Fire edition. She thought Kettle River and the surrounding area was well represented in the edition she researched and wrote.

Johnson was born and raised on the Torkelson farm west of Willow River where she graduated from high school. Her mother was of Finnish descent and from the Finlayson area. Her father was Norwegian and German.

She married Russell Johnson, a farmer, west of Moose Lake, in 1969. They were married for 52 years until Russ's passing earlier this year.

Lois remarked that the local area has always been close to her heart. She organized and wrote "The History of Sturgeon Lake." From 1996 to 1999 she served as the president of the Moose Lake Area Historical Society, helping set up the Moose Lake Soo Depot as a museum and gift shop in those early formative years for the society.

"I have done my job as a writer and reporter for all the little towns of our area," she reflected. "I have lived in the area most of my life, drawing from my personal knowledge and experience and using that knowledge to develop a story for each person I write about."

Lois said one interview with Sen. Florian Chmielewski still stands out in her memory. At the time, the incumbent senator had not been endorsed by the DFL party during a rough and tumble local party convention. She happened to end up in Duluth later in the week and stopped at KBJR news to let them know. Lois thought it was really big news. Somehow she ended up in front of a KBJR camera and was interviewed.

Shortly after that she interviewed Florian at his home - not long after he had had open heart surgery. He met her for the interview dressed in his business suit, eager to answer questions. She commented at that interview that he had not been endorsed by the local DFL activists. This was his opportunity to present his side of the story.

Johnson covered the Kettle River celebration from the early days. She was impressed with the group of Ma & Pa activists. They were a vibrant group and she found it easy to write about the activities they planned.

"It's called small-town pride," she said, adding that the thing she enjoyed most was meeting these local people, getting to know them, and through the years really getting to know the neighborhood.