Every once in a while I congratulate myself because I’ve written a continuous weekly newspaper column for the Hibbing Daily Tribune since June of 2001. Every Sunday (and sometimes more often) I’ve had an original thought, sometimes coherent, in the paper. As of today, that’s almost 16 years of columns, not insignificant in today’s media landscape of layoffs and diminished attention to local writing.
But then I saw this story about Elina Johnson.
For *78 years,* “Mrs. Leo Johnson” wrote a weekly column for the Floodwood Forum. For me to match that total I’d have to keep writing until age 99, an outcome that the Hardee’s Beer Cheese Bacon Burger ™ conspires to prevent.
Johnson, also known in print as “Mrs. Cedar Valley,” died Jan. 8, 2017 at the age of 95. She had written the column since she was a young woman, a wife and mother of 12 who took journalism courses by correspondence while raising a family. She wrote every column by hand, even in the hospital.
Her obituary in the Duluth News Tribune included a quote from a story about her writing: “She reads like a letter from home.”
Johnson’s work was “slice of life” writing, a genre that is often maligned in more sophisticated circles. As an occasional practitioner of that form of writing, I must disagree. In fact, columns like Johnson’s tell how people live, what people think, and how we navigate the challenges of life. These become important historical documents, and channels by which we transmit culture through generations.
It’s clear that Johnson’s family takes a lot of pride in her contribution to the greater Floodwood area. So should we all, in our own communities and in those who take the time to record our lives as they happen.
WDIO’s Bailhy Warfield produced a lovely story about Mrs. Johnson for yesterday’s newscast.