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History column

Column: Lake Geneva teacher Bruce Johnson was a great influence

The extensive personal library and vinyl records collection of jazz and classical music is being sold by the adult children of a person who had a major influence on my life as I was growing up in Lake Geneva during the late 1950s. That person was Bruce D. Johnson, my English teacher at Badger High School.

Of all of my teachers at Lake Geneva and Badger high schools, there were three who had a great influence on my life — the late Robert Petranek; Phil Gates, who now lives in retirement in Prescott, Arizona; and Bruce Johnson. It was Bruce Johnson who strongly encouraged me to read as many literary classics as I could get my hands on, to write, and to put my thoughts on paper.

Bruce had set up a kiosk in the front hall of Badger High School in which he placed paperback books that he had purchased and made them available to students for 25 cents each. I eagerly bought as many books as I could afford using the money that I had made working during summers at the American Legion Canteen in Library Park.

Bruce could be a harsh taskmaster at times as well as an encouraging mentor. I was the sports editor of the Badger Bulletin, the Badger High School student newspaper, and wrote a column, “On the Bench with Pat Quinn.”

In one of my columns I criticized Duane Morris, the Badger High School basketball coach, for selecting his favorites as members of the basketball team. Bruce called me into his office and fired me as the sports editor of the Badger Bulletin. I, of course, despised Bruce for firing me. It took a long time for my anger toward Bruce to dissipate. Only in retrospect years later did I acknowledge what a positive influence on my life that Bruce had been. Forty-eight years later, in 2008, when I returned to Lake Geneva after I had retired as the university archivist at Northwestern University, I reestablished my relationship with Bruce Johnson. I would frequently go to his house at 1012 Madison St. in Lake Geneva and chat with him about literature, politics and history.

For some reason he always denied that he had fired me as the sports editor of the Badger Bulletin. But that did not matter as far as I was concerned and it did not affect our renewed relationship. It was only when I attended the event celebrating Bruce’s 90th birthday that I fully realized what a positive influence that Bruce had been in shaping my life.

Bruce Johnson was born in Fennimore, in 1927. He graduated from Fennimore High School in 1945 and served in the U.S. Navy in 1945 and 1946.

In 1951, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a B.S. degree in Dairy Science. Bruce married Beverly Adkins in Fennimore in 1951. They eventually had four daughters, Diane, Debra, Dorian, and Denise, and a son, David. In 1951-1953 during the Korean War Bruce served in the U.S. Army in Kobe, Japan. In 1953 to 1955, he owned and operated the Fenway Café in Platteville. In 1956, he taught at the Lab School of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and at Platteville High School.

In 1957, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with a bachelor of science degree in English and education and attended the University of Minnesota during the summer. In 1957 and 1958, he taught English at Osseo-Fairchild High School in Osseo. And from 1958 until 1986, when he retired, he taught English at Badger High School in Lake Geneva.

In 1960, Bruce and Beverly Johnson purchased and moved into a house at 1012 Madison St. Ironically the house was owned from 1901 to 1919 by my great grandfather, Michael Quinn. Between 1958 and 2016, Bruce was active in civic and community affairs in Lake Geneva; wrote more than 250 columns for the Lake Geneva Regional News and other local newspapers; wrote 1,487 essays; and published a book, “And Gladly Would He Teach and Learn,” in 2020. On Nov. 4, 2021, Bruce Johnson passed away at the age of 94. He was an outstanding person whom I had the good fortune to have known during a formative time in my life.

Patrick Quinn is a Lake Geneva native who is the University Archivist Emeritus at Northwestern University.

Of all of my teachers at Lake Geneva and Badger high schools, there were three who had a great influence on my life — the late Robert Petranek; Phil Gates, who now lives in retirement in Prescott, Arizona; and Bruce Johnson. It was Bruce Johnson who strongly encouraged me to read as many literary classics as I could get my hands on, to write, and to put my thoughts on paper.

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