2 who helped build Forest Lake die

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

Two men who stamped their names on businesses in Forest Lake in the years following World War II have died.

Bob Johnson, who ran a sporting goods store and later headed an insurance agency, died Wednesday, Aug. 8. He was 93.

Warren Benoy, a lifelong resident of Forest Lake who teamed with a brother to run Benoy Brothers Construction Co., died Tuesday, Aug. 7. He was 87.

Both men used the post-war years to make Forest Lake their home and to start businesses. For Benoy, it was a home town decision; Johnson came to Forest Lake from South Dakota and quickly put down roots that would span a half century of business and community involvement.

Warren Benoy

Warren Benoy’s official World War II Army military photo.

Warren Benoy was like many of the young men from Forest Lake who went off to the military in the 1940s.

He was not yet a year old when his parents, Roscoe and Pearl Benoy, bought a farm in Forest Lake and moved from St. Paul.

He was a 1942 graduate of Forest Lake High School and soon after found himself in the military. He joined the Army Air Corps and was trained as a pilot. His B-24 crew was preparing to leave for overseas duty when the war ended. He spent 30 months in the service.

Benoy returned home and entered the University of Minnesota where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering. It was at college where Benoy and his younger brother, Russell, also of Forest Lake, and three friends who would team in 1950 to start a construction business, Northwestern Builders.

Two years later, Warren and Russell bought out their partners and formed Benoy Brothers Construction Co., Inc. Russell Benoy, who graduated from Forest Lake in 1944, had followed his brother into the Army and to college. They did just about everything in the early years of the business.

“We both worked on job sites for a time,” Russell said. As the business grew, the brothers devoted more time to bidding, estimating and coordinating projects.

Benoy Brothers specialized in home construction and larger projects such as schools, churches, banks, park buildings and other commercial buildings. The company built a number of area banks and churches and did additions and expansions of several area schools.

At its peak, Benoy Brothers employed 50 workers, including a third brother, David Benoy. Benoy Brothers continued until 1989 when the brothers retired and closed the business.

Warren Benoy never strayed too far from where he spent his youth. The family farm bordered on the east side of what is now SW 4th Street. Along with dairy cows, the Benoy farm specialized in truck gardening, growing strawberries and raspberries. Later, Warren Benoy separated a small piece of land from the home place to build the home where he lived until his death.

Benoy

During his years in Forest Lake, Benoy was a director of the Greater Forest Lake Association, the local Chamber group, and served on the board at Forest Hills Golf Club for three years. He also served on the Forest Lake Village Council.

He suffered a stroke eight years ago, his brother said. “He loved to garden and raised orchids,” Russell said. He continued to golf until the stroke forced him to give up the game, his brother said.

A funeral service for Warren Benoy was Friday, Aug. 10 at Faith Lutheran Church, Forest Lake, with interment at Scandinavian Cemetery, Forest Lake.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Eloise; four children, Dwight (Pat), Monte, Karen, and Brian (Deb); nine grandchildren; two great-grandsons; two brothers, Russell (Corrine) and David (JoAnne).

Bob Johnson as a young man on duty in Australia during World War II. (Johnson family photo)

Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson came to Forest Lake from South Dakota in 1949. While he was not a native or someone who grew up here, he was as much a fixture of the community as anyone who ever merged into the fabric of Forest Lake life.

Johnson was born on Sept. 1, 1918 in Yankton, SD, and spent his early life on the family farm outside Yankton near the Missouri River.

After graduating high school in 1936, Johnson left Yankton, looking for a start in life, said his son, Richard Johnson of Forest Lake.

Bob Johnson first moved to northern California where he tried his hand working at a fishery and on a dairy farm. He came home and joined the South Dakota National Guard as part of the 147th Army Field Artillery.

In 1940, the Guard unit was activated and sent to Fort Ord, CA, for training. By the fall of 1941, Johnson’s unit was in Hawaii. The unit shipped out for the Philippine Islands on Nov. 30, 1941, just a week before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Johnson’s unit was diverted from its original destination when Japanese forces hit the Philippines shortly after the attack in Hawaii. The 147th arrived in Darwin, Australia, where the unit set up defensive positions on the north shore in anticipation of additional Japanese attacks.

Richard Johnson said the family knew little of their father’s war service until sorting through military records in the days following his death. The family learned that the 147th remained in Australia for an extended period before getting into the fight as Allied forces began the task of pushing the Japanese from the South Pacific.

In the military records, the Johnson family learned that Staff Sgt. Robert Johnson had been awarded two Bronze Stars for his service in the Battle of New Guinea and a second major battle in the East Indies. He also earned two battle stars for the two campaigns, Richard Johnson said.

“My dad was very proud of his military service,” his son said, but added that little was ever said about the service duty.

In the early months of his active duty, Johnson came down with rheumatic fever and was hospitalized for eight months in California. He made a remarkable recovery. “Somehow he managed to get back to his buddies,” his son said.

In 1945 he was released from the military and returned to South Dakota. It was shortly after the war that Johnson purchased a small bowling alley in Vermilion, SD. It was there where he met his wife to be, Gwendolyn Hansen. They married in 1948, sold the business and moved east to Forest Lake where Johnson found a sporting goods store to buy, Rocky Teller Sporting Goods. Along with sporting goods, the store also sold Army surplus items.

Johnson

That was 1949 and the start of Bob Johnson Sporting Goods. He stayed in the business until 1959 when he sold the store to Howard Ruggles. The store kept the Johnson name through two ownerships before being changed to Tim’s Sporting Goods. By 1960, Johnson became the local agent for New England Life Insurance. He continued with the agency until 2000, marking more than a half century of business involvement here.

He was also active in community and other business functions.

He was a partner in the development of the former Town ‘N Country Lanes, was one of seven founding members of Forest Hills Golf Club, a member of the Forest Lake Development Corporation which developed the industrial park here and an active member of the Forest Lake Area Chamber of Commerce. He was a past board member of Faith Lutheran Church, raised funds for the heart association and helped start the local Ducks Unlimited Chapter.

He survived a serious health scare 34 years ago after a heart attack led to open-heart surgery and a valve replacement. “He lived a long, good life and would have been 94 on Sept. 1,” his son said.

Johnson described his father as a quiet visionary.

“He’d see things that needed to be done. He occupied leadership roles but did not revel in it.”

A funeral service for Robert “Bob” Johnson was Monday, Aug. 13 at Faith Lutheran Church, with inurnment at the Faith Lutheran Columbarium.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Gwen; son, Richard (Rebecca); daughters, Debra (Dan) Campanaro and Jan (Earl) Dick; grandchildren, Andrew (Yvonne) Schmidt, Alex Johnson, Sam Johnson, Matthew (Sarorn) Swanson, Cody Dick and Logan Dick; sisters-in-law, Jacqueline Johnson, Janet Gilbertson, Betty Hansen and Gwen Hansen; other relatives and friends.

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