A former U.S. Presidential candidate from Sioux Falls has died.
Robert L. Johnson passed away January 2nd after a lengthy illness. He was 93.
Wait..you don’t remember any Bob Johnson who made a bid for the White House?
How about Johnson’s alter ego, Uncle Torvald?
Johnson portrayed the exaggerated Norwegian buffoon character for some twenty years in a comedy team with the late Red Stangland whose series of Ole and Lena Norwegian Joke books is legendary. As part of their routine the pair decided to launch a presidential campaign for Torvald. It was all tongue in cheek..except Torvald actually registered to run on the “meal ticket representing the “surprise party.” They made up posters, tee shirts and slogans..one particularly prophetic, “Any fool can be president. Elect me and find out.”
I don’t recall how many, but Uncle Torvald actually got a few votes. Mostly, though, Torvald and Red found a whole comedy career doing stage shows and getting lots of laughs all over the Midwest by making fun of Norwegians right up until Red died in 1995.
In one of his rare serious moments, Bob said that we Norskies seem to be the only ones who can take a joke anymore. He said most of those ordering Red Stangland’s Norwegian joke books were people with Scandinavian names. The crowds for their shows were always well received.
He didn’t recall anybody attending their comic act ever taking offense.
The Uncle Torvald character was a release for Bob who took lots of things seriously: His love affair with wife Betty through 69 years of marriage. Betty was pretty famous in her own right specializing in and teaching the traditional Norwegian folk art form called Rosemaling.
Bob also was dedicated to his career with John Morrell in Sioux Falls..back when working at Morrell’s was a position of pride. He loved his church and was an active member of First Lutheran all his life..he also treasured memberships in the Sons of Norway and Norse Glee Club. He loved his country and served it honorably enlisting in the U.S. Navy at the onset of World War II serving mostly aboard the USS Davison; a destroyer which crossed the Atlantic numerous times escorting convoys protecting them from German U Boats. At wars end, the Davison and her crew received three battle stars from the Navy.
After retiring from Morrell in the mid 80’s Bob just couldn’t stand to sit down..so he went to work in the mail room of Augustana College; retiring from that career 20 years later.
I have Bob to thank for one of my most embarrassing moments on television. (And funniest) I was doing a story on the annual Lutefisk supper at Nordic Hall in which Bob and Betty were very involved. Over my objections that I was one Norwegian who couldn’t stand the stuff, he convinced me to give lutefisk another try on live TV.
So, with the whole crowd in the Hall watching and thousands more on the airwaves..I took a bite and immediately felt a fish bone lodge in my throat. The folks roared with laughter as I gagged..managing only to say “back to you in the studio.”
Give it a listen here:
Rest in Peace, Bob.
I wish Uncle Torvald would have been able to run for President one more time. I tink he could do yust as good a yob as dat orange fella who von.