Ruth Mary Johnson


Ruth Johnson, 95, of Duluth passed away on March 9, 2022, at Duluth Solvay Hospice House after five years at Primrose.  Ruth was a delightful and much-loved lady, mom, grandma and great-grandma and she made every moment spent with her a treasure. We absolutely appreciated her every day of her life.  She was born in Alma City, MN to Carl and Lillian Pagenkopf on December 27, 1926, and moved to Duluth with her mom and younger sister upon her father’s death right after her high school graduation. She went to High School in Wells, MN, and then went on to Duluth Business College. She worked first as a secretary at the Business College, Marshall Wells, Western Electric, and then the Minnesota Air National Guard before children; at UMD Dean’s office and last as a legal secretary in later years. Ruth married Warren W Johnson in 1951 and after their retirement, her favorite pastime was traveling the nation with Warren in their motorhome. She loved reading a map and navigating anyone who would drive the car, boat, travel trailer, or motorhome. They spent their winters in Mesa, Arizona for many years proudly displaying their sign, “Warren and Ruth from Duluth”.

Ruth designed the floor plans for the 5 homes her husband built in Piedmont Heights and sewed the draperies for many of those homes, as her mom had taught her. They were both great seamstresses and Ruth taught her three girls to sew before they ever got to Home Economics in school. Ruthie was an excellent cook and kept a very tidy home…she just closed the bedroom doors when her girls didn’t meet her expectations! The Saturday morning ritual included cleaning the house before anyone could board the city bus to shop in downtown Duluth. Ruth didn’t learn to drive a car until she was in her 40’s and by that time there were 4 drivers vying for the family’s woodgrain paneled station wagon.

Ruth was a member of Salem Lutheran Church in Hermantown and she was the Youth Group Leader of Chi Rho for many years, the Piedmont Heights Garden Club, Girl Scout leader, PTA and sold Avon for a few years. She loved her seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren and attended as many of their sports and activities as she could.

Our mom was a great role model and just lit up a room with her infectious smile and robust laugh. Ruth will be remembered for her loving kindness toward others, and the ability to make everyone around her feel special. She was the ring leader of the extended family, always planning family gatherings and making sure that everybody had a good time. She will be sadly missed by all who knew her. Especially at the annual summer “girls only” trip with her daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughter, sisters, and nieces that began in 1980.

She was preceded in death by her husband of 56 years Warren (who passed in 2007), her parents, brothers Marvin (Faith) Pagenkopf, Harold (Mary Jean) Pagenkopf, infant brother Donald Pagenkopf, sister Harriet Swartz and nephew Mike Swartz. She will be forever missed by her daughters Sheri (Keith) Mesedahl, Debi (Rick) Francisco, and Pam (Jim) Kwak; grandchildren Dan (Christa) Mesedahl, Bob (Katie) Mesedahl, Tami (Matt) Vukonich, Missy Francisco (Jason) Carlson, Jon (Bridget) Francisco, James (Jessica) Kwak, and Kris (Anna) Kwak; Great-Grandchildren Halle, Caleb, Wyatt, Natalie, AJ, Lydia, Jack, George, Owen, James, Avery and Kane; her sister Jean Knutson (brother in law Jack Knutson who passed on 3/20/22), 19 nieces and nephews; and special friends Mary Larson and Grace Nesgoda.

The family wishes to extend their gratitude to the loving people at Primrose/Duluth Heights Lodge and the tender, caring individuals at Solvay Hospice House. Her memory was sharp until the day she died, which leaves us to wonder….who we will ask when we can’t recall all that she retained for so many years?

Private Interment was held March 16th at Sunrise Funeral Home for the family, and there will be a memorial service in southern Minnesota for the extended family.

Modulist Image