VIRGIL SYLVESTER JOHNSON

Part I: The Early Years 1909-1930

Part II: The Hockey Years 1930-1952

Part III: The Later Years 1952-1993 and Induction into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, Eveleth, Minnesota.

Part IV: Finale


 

Part I: The Early Years 1909-1930

The periodic moves between Minnesota and the Dakotas in the first years of his life certainly prepared Virgil Johnson for the nation-trotting life of a professional hockey player. Indeed, he looks out at us seated atop farming equipment in the Dakotas or from the photographer's studio in Minneapolis with an attitude of wonder and expectation. 
     

Virgil Sylvester Johnson was born on March 4, 1909 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Please note that he frequently listed his birth date as 1912 to "extend his professional hockey career".) Virgil (Virg) was the younger brother to Ellsworth Charles (Ells) who was born in 1907. Their parents were Elmer Andrew Johnson and Agnes C. Trantina. The Johnsons lived in the Camden neighborhood in North Minneapolis amid a vast number of close relatives. Elmer worked as a carpenter for the Mereen-Johnson factory from 1922 until his retirement in 1954. Virg's paternal grandparents had emigrated from Husum, Sweden in 1881 and operated a large boarding house for Scandinavian lumbermen and their families on Aldrich Avenue. This location became a meeting place for both sides of his family. His favorite memory of the boarding house was the dining hall and the "big holiday parties" with his grandmother's "home cooked Swedish meals." His maternal grandparents lived by the Mississippi River at 2111 3rd Street South.  They had emigrated from Bohemia in the early 1880's. His grandfather worked as a bran packer for the Consolidated Milling Co. in Minneapolis.

 
Baby picture 1909 - S.P. Eggan Photo
 
       
The Johnson family group was complete with the birth of Virg's sister, Evelyn Agnes (Ev), in 1911 on the claim in South Dakota. When the Johnson family decided to quit homesteading after three unprofitable years in 1912, Agnes moved her family permanently back to Minneapolis. The Johnsons really were "city people" as Virg was to note later during the depression years. In 1933, he took summer employment at his Uncle Jim Craigie's wheat ranch in Montana. Amid the drought and hailstorms, he wrote home, "I never saw such long hours, five in the morning until eight at night. I get up at 3:30 or 4 o'clock - no farm for Johnson's son Virgil - that's for sure."
   

Virg and Ells October 1912
-S.P. Eggan Photo

Virg (center) with his parents, Ells, and Ev 1918 -
S.P. Eggan Photo

"He was so cute", his cousin Annabelle Jensen remembered. "Virg wasn't large, with blue eyes and blond hair. He was so personable and easy going." His manner with the girls was different from his roughhousing with the boys. One day five year old Annabelle walked home from school and came upon a pack of rowdy boys, "Virg appeared, took my arm and smiling walked me past the danger without an incident." Virg was admired by his "sisters, aunts, and cousins, he had them by the dozens" throughout his life. Annabelle's sister, Loraine McCarthy, admired his "free spirit." She felt Virg comfortably moved through life with his own agenda. Although he was “the best dancer I ever met”, his wife, Helen, noted “don’t try to get your father[Virg] to do anything he doesn’t want to do. You won’t budge him”. Of course, his biggest fan was his mother. Agnes’ attendance at sporting events from high school through the hockey years was noted by Annabelle, “my aunt appeared bundled up at every game even in the coldest weather”. Agnes kept every newspaper article and picture in which Virg was featured pasted in scrapbooks, much to our delight in preparing this biography.

 
                                                     
  Ells and Virg made their first holy communion at St. Bridget's Church in 1918. They wore navy blue serge Norfolk suits with knickers. After World War I Elmer and Agnes planned their new home that was to be built at 3955 Colfax Avenue North. This two-story timber and stucco house was built over a two-year period by Elmer and his two brothers, Merrette and Emil Johnson. They were all skilled carpenters, a craft that Ells and Virg were expected to develop and which served Virg well in his later working years. The interior woodwork was oak in the popular craftsman "arts and crafts style". The family moved into their new home in 1924. Virg and Ells shared one of the three upstairs bedrooms. In time the three children attended and graduated from North High School.
                                                       
  Virg and Ells First Holy Communion 1918 - S.P. Eggan Photo
Virg tried out for every sport during his high school years. He played baseball. He played football. He also played hockey in '26, '28 and coached the team in '29. He won letters ("N" for North High) for football AND hockey. Even elected to the Student Council in '28, he proved to be a popular classmate! His classmates included Lauretta (Mrs. Earl) Bartholome, a life-long friend. Standing 5’ 8” tall, weighing 153 pounds, with blue eyes and wavy blonde-brown hair parted in the middle, Virg did not appear to have the physique we recognize today as jock material.
Though acknowledged as a developing athlete, he took his time matriculating through the labyrinth of studies. “I never wanted to give up being North’s football captain.” As quarterback (’26,’27), captain in ’28 and assistant coach in ‘29 of the football team, he became a school hero. He was a talented team leader. Men looked up to him for direction and followed him. "You could not walk down a street in Minneapolis without Virg stopping to greet a relative, former classmate, or a fan." He was very, "Hail fellow, well met!" Helen remembered. One school photograph shows him performing the symbolic rite entitled “The Rabbit’s Foot Is Passed Along,” for as captain he carried the good luck charm.
Virg (right) Receiving the Rabbit's Foot 1928
North High Yearbook
Family loyalties were divided, however, when his team played Marshall High School, whose captain was his cousin, Chuck Kausel. After securing a mountain of trophies for North High, Virg graduated in 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression. Over the years he attended many class reunions and was still remembered by those classmates who attended his funeral in 1993. The caption on his yearbook photo reminded classmates, "He may not be hot with a waffle iron--- but, oh boy, on the gridiron."
 
Virg North High School graduation 1930 -
David Banks Photo
   
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Part II: The Hockey Years 1930-1952

1930-1937 Playing Hockey for the CHL and the AHA

Virg received athletic scholarship offers from the University of Minnesota and Notre Dame but declined them to earn money and play hockey. In 1930, he wrote the Chicago Blackhawks asking for a try out. He was invited by Bill Tobin in September 1931 to ‘show your ability” in Chicago “on or about Nov. 14th.” The Blackhawks did not make an offer.

“Some three or four seasons back. Virgil Johnson was a great North High football performer but regarded as only an ordinary hockey player. Today he is regarded as one of the Central Hockey League’s outstanding defensemen and most colorful performers. Johnson tried out for the Polar ice team with only experience as a skater. It didn’t take long for him to become an outstanding performer in the prep conference and develop into a star in last year’s twin city league--a big enough star to gain a tryout with the Chicago Blackhawks in midseason. Today he is captain of the Miller six that faces the Hibbing club in an important tilt Sunday. And he’s the favorite among many a fan.” Minneapolis Tribune, Dec. 19, 1931.

He was hired by the Minneapolis Millers (CHL) to play defense in the ’31. ’32, ’33, and ’34 seasons. Described as the “Millers’ Bladed Gem”, he was “the most effective offensive player” in the Millers’ final winning streak. Success notwithstanding, he joined the St. Paul Saints (AHA) for the ’34, ’35, and ’36 seasons.

 
       
Virg on roller skates
Minneapolis Arena, 1932
Virg Johnson
Minneapolis Millers, 1934
       
Helen in jodphers
Minneapolis Riding Academy, 1929
   

Virg met Helen Elizabeth Emmings about 1932. The Minneapolis Skating Arena was adjacent to the horse stables and Riding Academy. In these two ovals, Virg skated and Helen rode her favorite horses, Rex and Fidgits. She was the head stenographer at the Minneapolis law firm, Russell Miller, a position she had held since the late 1920's. Her father, Fred R. Emmings, was the representative for Chicago Paints with the Breinig Paint Co. in Minneapolis.

The Emmings house was located at 3415 Pillsbury Ave. South in Minneapolis. It became a center for the hockey and horse crowd. Hockey star, Cliff "Fido' Purpur, lived there in 1934 noting, "I stayed with the Emmings family one of my seasons with the Minneapolis Millers. I used to go with your mother's brother, Oren, to Hopkins and play cribbage for beers. The Emmings treated me like a King and I was just a young guy from North Dakota."
At the Emmings' 1934 - Cully Dahlstrom, Virg, Oren Emmings, Don Olson, and Cliff Purpur
   
"Virgil and I were married on May 23, 1936 in Gethsemane Episocopal Church in downtown Minneapolis late in the afternoon. The reception was at Grandpa's House at 3415 Pillsbury. Many, many people were there. Three hundred dinners were served. Helen Breckheimer was my maid of honor. Cully stood up for your father. I did not wear a veil, I was over 30, you know, and no bouquet, only a prayer book. My dress was blue lace, not white! And only two bridesmaids, it was the depression, there was not much money in those days", Helen reminisced about her marriage to Virg in 1985, almost fifty years later.
Helen and Virg 1936 - Zintsmaster Photo
1937-1938 — Playing Hockey for the NHL, THE CINDERELLA TEAM
Chicago millionaire, Frederic McLaughlin, was a man of ambitious hockey enthusiasms. He envisioned an All American Team to people his prized but struggling Chicago Blackhawks. It was a long shot. “Think of what that will mean to attendance. American cities will be represented by American players.” Minnesotans were represented by Mike Karakas (goalie), Doc Romnes (center), Cully Dahlstrom (forward), and Virgil Johnson (defense). McLaughlin’s wife, Broadway dancer Irene Castle, designed the new team’s jerseys. The profile of the head of a Blackhawk Indian had floppy feathers over his ears. The players disliked the jerseys intensely but said nothing outside of the locker room. They all were charmed by Irene and would not bite the hand that fed them. When Virg returned to the Blackhawks in 1943, the jerseys had been redesigned. The management outfitted the team for combat. Virg wore a size “6 1/2 wide shoe” and had his skates specially made by the Nestor Johnson Skate Company, a sponsor for the Blackhawks.
  Equally admired was the new Art Deco hockey arena. The Chicago Stadium, located at Madison, Wood, Warren and Wolcott Streets, was the largest sports arena in the world with a seating capacity for 25,000 persons. One feature of the huge auditorium was a giant pipe organ that was suspended over the rink. From here a heavyset contralto could invite team combat by belting out The Star Spangled Banner.
Curt Teich & Co Postcard 1938

Virg’s coach, the irascible Bill Stewart, had just been elevated from referee status. The recruited team of talented American players combined older players like Johnny Gottselig and Earl Seibert and newcomers like Cully Dahlstrom, who had been named “Rookie of the Year”. After a legendary hassle getting Alfie Moore onto the ice to act as goalie for the ailing Mike Karakas, a victory in Toronto returned the Blackhawks to Chicago. The final games drew record crowds and marginalized the worldwide news in the Chicago papers. With Karakas back at his home net, the team skated to victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in two games. Doc Romnes scored the decisive goal.

                                             

However, the Andy Frain ushers at the Stadium saw more than winning scores and frenzied fans. The Chicago Tribune on April 12 noted that the Frain ushers had fleeced the crowd of “ice ammunition” as varied as “marbles. bags of rice and flour, one thousand paper airplanes (scooters), pennies in 25 cent rolls, coat hangers, and folding chairs,” in a search and seizure act.

Virg played seven of those Stanley Cup games and became the only defenseman in NHL history to get a penalty shot during a Stanley Cup Series. This victorious 1937-38 “Cinderella” team was the first All-American Team to win the Cup. Quoting Johnny Gottselig, “so all we did was go out and win the Stanley Cup”. It would be another 23 years before the Hawks captured the cup again.

                                             
Virg Chicago Blackhawks 1937-38  

1938-1952— Playing Hockey for the AHA, AHL, NHL, USHL, and AAHL

   

The challenge of tournament travel excited Virg and Helen. A career in sports, and they were a motivated sports-minded couple, necessitated travel. Virg was a disciplined athlete. Helen noted during a contract dispute, “you know Virg! He won’t ever do or say anything that might cost him a chance to play hockey”. They regularly moved households between Minneapolis and Chicago, Hershey and Cleveland over a nine-year period. In 1939 their son Virgil Charles (Johnny) was born followed by their daughter Holly Anne in 1940. Virg was in hospital with hockey injuries when Holly died in a pneumonia epidemic in Minneapolis in 1942. He attended her funeral at Lakewood Cemetery in a wheelchair.

Helen, Johnny, and Virg En Route from Hershey, Spring 1943
Virg was voted "Most Valuable Player" for the American Hockey Association in 1942. After being contracted to the St. Paul Saints and the Hershey Bears, Virg returned to the Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) for the 1943-44 Season. Virg, Helen, and Johnny lived with other team member's families at the Hotel Guyon, the “Home of Homes” that boasted “every room with bath and shower”. It was located at 4000 Washington Boulevard. The wartime accommodations were cramped by today's standards. Helen to Agnes on December 16, “We have a one room apartment to live in and I like it a lot...however, they have put our name on the list waiting for an apartment with a bedroom, as they are only $1.00 more a week, and it will be better for Johnny than sleeping on the davenport. This apartment has a real nice kitchen, large enough for Johnny and me to eat in.” In March 1944 she wrote, “After the game, I had a surprise birthday party for Virg up in the Dahlstrom apartment. We played games and I served cold fried chicken, potato salad, coleslaw and hard rolls. The ten of us ate twelve pounds of chicken. Virgil got some wonderful birthday presents and won’t have to buy a thing for ages.”
Curteich Chicago postcard - 1938
                                                                         

The teammates did not suffer in the wartime climate of rationing. The fans gave them food coupons in and around the stadium. Helen continued, “We sure have been lucky at getting foodstuffs this winter. We have been invited out for buffalo, venison, and roast duck dinner and are going out Saturday for lobster.” But rationing was no laughing matter. Virg wrote to his folks, “enclosed are a couple of gas coupons.” His fans volunteered more than food.

“I saw the game Sunday night”, Helen wrote Agnes, “took my knitting along and almost got a mitten done. Virgil got two assists so I was quite proud. A lot of people think he should have had credit for one of the goals, but the referee said that Mosienko had deflected Virgil’s shot into the net, so Virg got an assist. His second assist came when he passed to Cully on his own blue line and Cully went down and scored a beautiful solo shot to win the game. Seemed like old times when they said, “Dahlstrom scoring on Johnson’s assist”. One feature of the “new” team that Virg had rejoined was the formidable scoring threesome of Max and Doug Bentley and Bill Mosienko. The press named them “the Pony Line.” Mosienko scored a record goal of 32 that season. This successful season placed the team in the Stanley Cup playoffs once again.

Virg Chicago Blackhawks 1944

Well fed and traveled Blackhawks at Chicago train station 1944
The Blackhawks played the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs but lost in the final round of games, losing four straight games. “They left today to play the fourth game Thursday on Montreal ice.” Helen warned Agnes on April 11. “As Montreal has been defeated on their own ice only once this season, it does not look as though the Hawks will be able to win that one. Montreal really had a wonderful club this year. They play together like they were one man, their passing is terrific and their team play and backchecking something to be seen before it is believed.” Virg played nine of the final Stanley Cup games. “Johnson is not a defense player of the bone crushing type. He is a good body checker and possesses enough speed to make him dangerous in a rush, for he is an accurate passer with a good shot close in on the nets.” Following this season, he left the National Hockey League.
     
Hockey player pals with their children, Minneapolis 1941, Cully Dahlstrom, Ted Breckheimer, Bill McGlone, Evie Scotvold, Earl Bartholome, and Virg.      
Virg, Minneapolis Millers 1945
Following a stint with the Cleveland Barons, Virg returned to Minneapolis to rejoin the Minneapolis Millers. Having purchased a new home in 1943 at 6715 Nicollet Avenue South, Helen settled down to put Johnny in kindergarten. Their son, Alan David, was born at Asbury Hospital in 1945. Both Helen and Virg loved Lake Minnetonka. They had summered at a cottage at Island Park since their marriage. Looking for a more permanent home, Virg renovated a summer cottage into a year round house at Tonka Bay, Lake Minnetonka, and the "retired" hockey player and his family moved in, in 1946.

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Part III: The Later Years 1952-1993 and Induction into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, Eveleth, Minnesota.

"Always a good man with the stick when he was playing as a pro, Virg has lost none of his touch. As a matter of fact if you can believe a lot of fans he is getting better. An old sidekick of pro days who was a playing foe, the now ageless Earl Bartholome, claims 'Virg is better now than he ever was.'." This St. Paul Dispatch article from January 9, 1952 claimed Virg “Refutes Hockey Age Theories”. He had played and coached in Rochester in 1951 but in 1952 Virg was 42+ and this was his last year in hockey.

Earl Bartholome, now in building construction management, hired Virg as a carpenter for the Insulation Sales Co. in Minneapolis. His specialty was the installation of acoustical ceilings in public buildings. He traveled all over the mid-west with carpenters supervising complex installations. Virg also did free lance construction through his own "Virg Johnson Company". As a member of the Carpenter's Union, he continued to work until his retirement at 65 in 1974.

In 1950, the "free spirit" moved into a summer cottage he rebuilt at Gray's Bay, Wayzata. Helen and the boys remained in Tonka Bay. Virg and Helen were never divorced and frequently appeared together at family and public events, such as the Induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. They both attended Johnny's graduation from Boston University in 1961. Virg helped celebrate Alan and Beverly's wedding in 1967. He became a grandparent when Alan and Bev produced Carolyn Jean in 1971 and Alan David, Jr. (Dave), in 1973.

Virg, Helen, Alan, and Bev - Wedding Reception 1967
 

Bev, Alan, Virg, Helen with Carolyn, and Johnny - 1971
Lee Brothers Photo

 
                           

As a vital member of the Blackhawk’s “Cinderella Team” and as a stalwart player for twenty-two years, Virg’s contribution to hockey was recognized when he was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame on October 26, 1974. Among the eight other enshrinees were his old friends, Bill Moe, Vic Heyliger, Vic Des Jardins, and Cliff Purpur. The induction festivities included the enshrinement ceremony banquet presided over by Clarence Campbell, president, of the National Hockey League. Devotees were reminded, “that memories may never fade of flying puck and flashing blade”. Virg cited the sport of hockey in his acceptance speech with a toast, “On with the game!” That evening guests were treated to an Enshrinement Hockey Game at the hippodrome that pitted the University of Minnesota against the University of Minnesota-Duluth. An evening reception was held at the Eveleth Elks Club and VFW. Virg was joined at the event in Eveleth by Helen, his sons, and his extended family including the “sisters, aunts, and cousins.”

Coach Johnny Mariucci remembered Virg: "He was one of the smallest defensemen in the league, but very effective. He was a magician with his stick. He was like a terrier after a rat when he moved in and stole the puck. He could do it against the best stick handlers."

   
Virg's acceptance speech, Hockey Hall of Fame 1974
Alan, Virg, and Johnny,Hockey Hall of Fame 1974
   

He enjoyed his working and retirement years with his second best sport, “hunting and fishing”. “Thanks mother for the birthday gift, and you know what I’m going to buy? Some fishing tackle!” He collected tackle and guns and regularly loaned them out to fellow sportsmen.

   
         
Virg (center) with Cousin Tom Novak (right) 1932                                        Virg - Did he catch it or buy it? 1974                     
 

Trips with pals were made in search of game to Canada, the Dakotas and Northern Minnesota. Messrs. Hamms and Grain Belt accompanied them on these forays. The stories of these trips were legendary within the family. His nephew, David Johnson, remembers one camping and fishing trip to Lake Winnebagosh with his father, Ells, Uncle Virg and Uncle Stanley. "Uncle Stan was passing around the Hamms before we got to Osseo. Then we had to camp out. But we had a good time catching walleyes. I won the “first fish” prize ($1.00 per fisherman) by catching a northern pike. Those other guys were angry!"


Virg (left) with other deerstalkers. Mid 1980's

The painful arthritis that resulted in Virg’s knobby knuckles and elbows and that affected his walking increased with the passing years. Virg played hockey at a time when agility and skill were much admired. The old hockey uniforms were under-padded. An award, the Lady Byng Trophy, used to be presented annually to the player who best demonstrated true sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct while showing consistent skill in handling the puck. Virg was never a candidate for gentlemanly conduct. But Doc Romnes was a recipient. In the final Blackhawk games against Toronto in 1938 Doc encountered defenseman, Red Hoerner, who broke his nose in five places. Hockey can be a violent game. Mike Karakas goaled in ‘38 with a fractured toe encased in a cast. And Virg, like most other team members, played games wearing his false teeth. While playing for the Blackhawks against Detroit, the referee’s whistle stopped the action in response to Virg’s screaming, “I lof my teef!” The crowd grew still and the players surrounded him. “I lof my teef. Fomeone flamed me and my teef are gone,” he said, pointing to his mouth. Both teams joined in a search, the crowd figuring out what had happened howled with laughter, but the search was fruitless. Virg was persuaded to continue playing. When the game was ended, Virg did not return to the locker room but stayed on the rink as it was drained and gave a happy shout when he found them smiling up at him. Unperturbed, he snapped them back into his mouth, returned to the locker room and headed to the nearest steak joint.

Dining was a favorite pastime. He was a regular at several “steak joints” in downtown Minneapolis. The routine was always the same. “Make mine Manhattan.” After a few cocktails he would order some “horsey durvseys”. His salad would have ranch or blue cheese dressing which paved the way for a prime rib “au joooose”. Preferably thick and rare. Baked potatoes with sour cream. Desserts? Well, he could take them or leave them. As for cigarettes? He never touched them. The guests varied but the talk was always of sports or the hunting season.

Throughout the latter part of his life, Virg maintained a close relationship with his extended family, his nephews, his niece, and many cousins. There were fish fries at Lake Minnetonka, weekend picnics at lake homes in Minnesota and Wisconsin and "beer and onion rings" at various boating pavilions. Virg was a particular "favorite cousin" with his female cousins. All of them would light up when asked to describe him years later. One cousin remembered how touched she was every year to receive "a personal hand written Christmas card from Virg".

In 1982, he co-hosted with his siblings and five first cousins a Johnson Centenary Reunion celebrating the immigration from Sweden of their grandparents. Blue and yellow Swedish flags hung over the banquet tables at Salem Lutheran Church as the sixty five descendants dined and revived the past. The next morning the heirs toured Minneapolis in 95 degree heat visiting the old Johnson Boarding House, Elmer and Agnes’ Colfax Avenue house (now the home of their grandson David Johnson), and other family residences. The next afternoon a large family picnic was held in Camden Park (formerly Webber Park) where Virg had played sports in his youth.

 
                                                   
In August 1987 his brother Ells celebrated his 80th birthday. "We held the reception on the porch of the Officers Club at Fort Snelling," recalled his daughter Jerre Leonard. "About fifty to sixty guests joined dad, Virg, and Ev in cutting the large birthday cake." During the Twins' winning series that October, Helen died with her “homer hanky” tied to her walker. Virg greeted old friends and was present in the front row for her memorial service. He then joined his sons and family at a steak joint amid TV monitors that heralded another Twins victory.
Virg, Ev, and Ells - at Ells' 80th Birthday 1987
 
Johnny took Virg to Tacoma in 1989 to visit his sister, Evelyn White, her sons, John and Ed Barnes, and their families. They drove to the Pacific Ocean, ate salmon, and toured the Olympia Brewery where he sampled all of the free beer. "Don’t hold a torch to Grain Belt and Hamms.” They picnicked on fried chicken under the evergreens on scenic Mount Rainier.
                     
David, Jo, and Ed Barnes, Ev, Johnny and Virg on Mt. Rainier August 1989
 
                                                                         
                                   
  His last family event was the joint graduation reception hosted by Alan and Bev for Carolyn from the University of Minnesota-Mankato and Dave from Eden Prairie High School in June 1991. He wore his favorite mink bow tie.          
 
Graduation, Eden Prairie, MN 1991
      "They call me Mr. Hockey" Virg was quoted in the Star Tribune in 1990. "Johnson said the game has changed since he played. Teams didn't wear facemasks or helmets. Nowadays, you'd get your face taken off if you didn't wear them. He said, 'The players are bigger now'. Unlike today's players, he never got rich. 'I sure didn't,' he said. 'When we won the Stanley Cup in '38 we got $500 and a watch'. In February 1944, Virg wrote his parents telling them his “$5000 contract” would pay more if they go to the playoffs. “Getting in the finals we could clean up a tidy sum- more than I could make working all summer”.  
   
       
Virg with his hockey jersey 1990
Jeff Wheeler Photo
     

American Legion pals 1985
Following the death of his longtime companion, Mrs. Margie Carlson, in 1980, he became a regular for meals and nightcaps at the American Legion, Post 118, Ernest Aselton at Wayzata. Signs outside welcomed you with "Friday Night Pork Chops and Shrimp." Although he was technically not a veteran, his pals there made him an honorary member. At the Legion, he met Walter Haselhuhn who recognized and advocated his hockey career. Wally sponsored a member's trip to Chicago in the late 1980's to attend a Blackhawk game. Back in the Chicago Stadium under the pipe organ and the banner honoring the Stanley Cup win of '38, Virg was acknowledged as a "hockey great" and received the applause of the hockey players and the Windy City audience.

The many friends he made at the Legion were an important component of his latter life. In many ways, they became his family. Virg was a man's man. He enjoyed the company of groups of men and many of those individuals sought his friendship. As an older person, he was looked to for advice, was a patient listener, and once again he became the “coach” to a varied group of buddies. He continued to “pass the rabbit’s foot” along.

Virg suffered a stroke at the Legion Post on June 4 and died on September 9, 1993 at Alan and Bev’s home in Eden Prairie. He was 84 years old. A memorial Service was held at Lakewood Cemetery Chapel on September 18, 1993. His friend, Chaplain Cyril Gildner, commenced with the eulogy, Dvorak’s “Goin’ Home” was sung by Michelle Kropski and testimonials were given by Virg’s good friend, Wally Haselhuhn, and his son, Johnny. Many old friends, schoolmates, and hockey friends joined his family and relatives to reminisce about the glory days on ice at a reception given by his nephews, Duane, Ellsy, and Dave Johnson, and his niece, Jerre Leonard. His ashes were interred in the family plot at Lakewood Cemetery.

         

(rear) Virgil C. Johnson, David V. Johnson, Duane G. Johnson, Alan D. Johnson; (front) John T. Barnes, Geraldine R. Leonard, Ellsworth C. Johnson, Jr.
- Minneapolis, Minnesota September 18, 1993

             
                                                                         

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Part IV: Finale

One interesting postscript was that The Chicago Stadium survived Virg by only one year. Built in 1929 to house the Blackhawks, it later housed the Bulls, political conventions, circuses, ice shows and even funerals. The contents of the Art Deco monolith were sold on October 15, 1994 to an enthusiastic audience of 2,000 fans. Leslie Hindman Auctioneers conducted an on site auction that included the wooden slat seats from 1929 ($250 each) and the red padded vinyl box seats for $100. The 1938 Stanley Cup Banner was sold for $9,680. Demolition of the building followed.

This website was created in 2005 by Virg's two sons, two grandchildren and in discussion with other family members. Quotes are from family letters and newspaper clippings. We are particularly indebted to Lee Keenan as web designer. Inquiries may be made to Beverly Johnson or Virgil C. Johnson .

 

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