Norm Johnson, Green Bay, loving husband and dad, true friend, successful businessman and proud Navy veteran, died November 6, 2020 with his wife Ginnie at his side. Born adjacent to the waters of Sturgeon Bay in 1940 to Capt. Norman and Viola Nimmer Johnson, it was water that charted Norm’s life.
Growing up roaming the beach and woods, fishing, sailing, and creating, Norm was a Boy Scout and a Sea Scout who became a Sea Scout leader. Norm graduated from Sturgeon Bay High School and following a tremendous 4-year experience in the U.S. Navy, he continued his education at UW-Madison, UW-Green Bay, and Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology.
Norm’s career began in the engineering department of Palmer Johnson Boats, where he also served as purchasing agent for new boat construction. He was a test engineer at Ohio Medical and Kiekhaefer Mercury, and a design engineer at Cruiser Boats before founding his own boat design and tooling company, Associated Marine Design, and, later, its parent company NL Johnson, Inc. NLJ was the small company that did big things. If the job was impossible, Norm and his exceptional crews just took a little longer. The company never got away from boats while also manufacturing Yogi Bear and friends for U.S. and Canadian campgrounds, statues and animals for parks and children’s’ museums, tooling for fast food restaurants and Disney World, products for paper making, sewerage, including sewerage in Saudi Arabi, and taking technology back to 1940 for a cheese system for the old Yugoslavia. During an economic downturn, the late Leo Frigo and Errico Auricchio approached Norm, asking him to the solve problems in the cheese industry. Meeting their needs led to Norm’s patented brine return system, a cheese brining system that brought recognition and awards for the maintenance of brines, thus aiding in the clean-up of ground water supplies. While the name has changed, the company has gone forward as a leader in the brined cheese industry.
At the sale of the company in 2001, Norm and Virginia spent years continuing to travel, and sailing his beloved Providence, working on his farm and on the historic Green Bay lighthouses, and oil painting in his Main Street studio. He had been a 28-year member of the Baylanders and was singing with Ascension Lutheran Church’s choir when he joined the Dudley Birder Chorale in 2002. Cast in Music Theater’s Evita, The Music Man, and Phantom of the Opera, he enjoyed buildings sets for that theater and the Birder Players. Norm never missed a family event, nor a school event, performance, or sporting event when Greg was participating. He was an early member of Ascension Lutheran Church. Norm was supportive of everyone and always basked in the success of others.
When Norm was diagnosed with a form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2010, he saw it as a bump in the road rather than a death sentence and kept on going, never slowing down and living a good life. Cancer never defined him.
Drs. Clive Zent and Tim Call at Mayo led the way working with Drs Jerry Winkler, Brian Brunette, Matt Ryan, and Michael Volk at GBO. Keeping life good started with the guys who run St. Vincent’s parking lots and doors, and continued with Tammy and Debbie, the welcoming committee, and Shaina in oncology.
Norm leaves his wife, Virginia Feld Johnson, their son Greg, his sisters Joan Spring and Carol Enriquez, cousin C. Dean Johnson, the Seagulls, Lighthouse Keepers, the Tin Can Sailors, friends too numerous to mention, and Virginia’s family, Judy and Dr. Len Maurer, Dianne and David Younk, Mark and Kathleen Feld, godchildren Nathan, Deborah and Carrie, and nieces and nephews. Welcoming Norm into heaven are his parents, in-laws Maynard and Clarice Feld, sister Vi Deaver, and brothers-in-law Harold Spring and Armando Enriquez.
Because of COVID, a celebration of Norm’s life will take place in April. Military rites and graveside services, with Rev. Lori Swenson officiating, will take place at Mt. Olive Cemetery in rural Door County. Newcomer-Green Bay Chapel has been entrusted with arrangements. To leave an online condolence please visit www.newcomergreenbay.com
In memory of Norm, consider an act of kindness toward another. Charitable contributions can be directed to cancer research at Mayo Clinic or St. Vincent Hospital, Ascension Lutheran Church food pantry, veterans or community homeless shelters, or where needs seem greatest.