Cashton Record - An Independent Wisconsin Newspaper... Serving The Cashton Area For Over 120 Years!

Fanning Files


April 17, 2019

By Me

In 1982, the Sparta High School Band , under the direction of Aaron Young, took an extended trip to Colorado to take part in a concert band competition. To this day it stands out as one of the most memorable moments of my life. It was an incredible group of people who truly enjoyed being around one another.

I was a part of the sophomore class, which was the youngest class at high school at the time. We weren’t all from the same class obviously, but it didn’t seem to matter.

There were some members of the senior class that, I would come to realize later, I was going to wish I could have spent more than one year getting to know. People who would be noticeably absent the following year. One of them was a boy named Steve “Stubby” Johnson.

He had gotten his nickname because of his small stature. But he had a big heart, and found it easy to smile. I learned in the years that followed his life had been, and was going to be, not an easy one.

When he was in kindergarten he was diagnosed with diabetes. Doctors told his parents to “let him live” because he probably wasn’t going to reach 20 years-old.

After his high school graduation I didn’t know where he had gone, accept that he graduated college. Then, in the early 1990’s I heard that he was not well, held up in a nursing home closing in on his final days. But a miracle happened... An organ donor gave him the gift of more life.

Steve’s illness would rob him of his eyesight, but not of his vision or finding a purpose for his life.

His brother and sisters know how fortunate they were to have so many more years with him than they were supposed to. And Sunday, friends and relatives gathered to celebrate a life. Steve didn’t want a funeral, he wanted a party. And that’s what it was.

Steven Curtis Johnson died Thursday, March 14, 2019. He was born in La Crosse, Nov. 10, 1963, to Curtis and Alyce Johnson of Sparta. He was the second of six children and certainly held his rank among the siblings. A small man with a big attitude garnered the fitting nickname “Stubby,” which stuck with him. A 1982 graduate of Sparta Senior High School, Steve was a standout trumpet player in the band. He worked at Ted and Fred’s grocery, cutting his hands a million times on the box cutters he used in stocking the shelves, and earned enough money to buy a Dodge Colt. After high school, Steve pursued a degree in radiography from Western Wisconsin Technical Institute, until he lost his sight and his life changed forever. After enduring innumerable medical hardships, Steve received the gift of life from an anonymous donor hero in 1991. Steve fought to regain a new sense of normal and enrolled in UW-La Crosse, graduating in 1997 with a Bachelor’s degree in community health education. Steve dedicated his second chance at life to giving back to his community. He served on various boards and committees working to improve the lives of others around him, including: North American Squirrel Association, Lions Club of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, La Crosse Municipal Transit, and the Wisconsin Council for the Blind & Visually Impaired. Steve worked tirelessly for the County of La Crosse in various capacities, most recently for the Aging and Resource Disability Center. The ARDC staff were his second family, and he very much enjoyed spending his days with his colleagues. Steve was proud of living independently and being a homeowner. However, he was most proud of his Black Labrador Leader Dogs, who served as his eyes and best friends for three decades, and allowed him to live a full life of meaning and gratitude.

Through the years Steve was featured more than once by local news media for what he had accomplished and the path he chose.

Ten years ago, there was a post on Facebook of a picture from that Colorado trip so many years ago. Stubby was in it, and he commented, “What does everybody look like now?” Someone replied, “We all look the same.” “Good,” he wrote, “because that’s exactly how I remember you.”

I will always remember Steve in much the same way. Smiling, happy, caring about other people and never at a loss for words. I only had one year to really get to know him, but I will always remember him that way. Because the way it sounds, he never really changed all that much.


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