Fern Johnson, 89, died peacefully March 5, 2022 at her home at the Vista. She was born Fern Audrey Rishoi on May 21, 1932, to Arnold Rishoi and Ethel (Hendrickson) Rishoi in Jamestown, ND. In 1934, Fern became a big sister to Arlene Maree. When their family moved to Brookings, SD, the girls enjoyed life on the farm. While Arlene spent her time outside in the fields with Dad, Fern preferred to be anywhere away from the chickens that terrified her and so her time was spent indoors with mother perfecting her many domestic skills. Those same homemaking skills on the farm proved fruitful in time. She became a Home Economic major at SDSU in Brookings, SD, a degree that served her well as a teacher, seamstress, amazing cook, gardener and entertainer. It was while she was at SDSU that she met LeRoy Johnson at a Lutheran Student Assembly meeting, and their story began.
Before they were married, Fern taught school in Wilmot, SD, while Lee finished his degree. The many letters shared between them at that time were one of Fern’s most cherished possessions. Wrapped with a ribbon, she still had them with her upon her death. They were married on June 17, 1955, and later moved to Rapid City, where Lee pursued his degree in animal husbandry as a chicken farmer. Fern’s greatest childhood fear had become her daily reality! Eventually, they moved into town, where they became actively involved in their church and their community. Their combined love of learning led them to become teachers of Sunday school, confirmation and adult education instructors for Bethel and Search.
Fern and Lee traveled the country with their bowling leagues. And when at home, there was weekly bridge, allowing Fern to host whimsical gatherings and parties, her specialty. In 1969, life took them to Billings, MT. They found their church home at Peace Lutheran, where they were active members for many years and built their home in the “Heights.” Fern became a Mary Kay consultant and enjoyed new recipe club while Lee pursued his career and his love of propagating violets in the basement. Together, they shared the love of camping with their dear friends and neighbors, Dick and Karen Hanson.
Although they didn’t have children of their own, they were “family” to all who were lucky enough to share in their lives. To the neighborhood kids who always had a place to play, chat and cuddle their pets. To the students they taught in confirmation they were true teachers and mentors. They were not afraid to give advice and guidance, reprimand when necessary or send you home if you were naughty! In every sense of the word, they were parents. Their lives were not just full, they were meaningful. It is difficult to write just about Fern. Although she was strong-willed, opinionated and sassy, she would agree that her life was intertwined with Lee’s. They were a “team.” They worked together in everything they did: gardening, canning, camping, playing cards, doing puzzles and especially their journey of faith.
In 2004, Lee died after a long hard-fought battle with pancreatic cancer. For the first time, Fern was without her beloved LeRoy; but her faith, family and friends carried her through. She made her own way, made her own plans and, in 2005, found her new home at Mission Ridge. Over the years, her eyesight failed her and she made her way to The Vista.
Fern will be remembered for so many things: her classy sense of style, the way she wrapped the most beautiful packages and made every occasion special. She loved quietly but with intensity. She was generous, caring, compassionate and faithful. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her.
Fern was preceded in death by her husband, LeRoy; her parents, Arnold and Ethel (Hendrickson) Rishoi; and her sister Arlene and brother-in-law Arlo Enevoldsen. Dear to her heart were here beloved pets, Sampson, Silly, Suzy and Sassy.
Fern is survived by her nieces, Lori Nichols, Lanette Asheim, Gwyn Hubbard, Shawna Prugh; her nephew, Daren Enevoldsen; and their children, Caitlyn, Seth, Sage, Magara, Colton, Payton, Anders and Annika and one great-great nephew Arlo.
“Well done, good and faithful servant.” Mathew 25:23
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