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Steven Curtis Johnson

March 18, 2019 | 7 comments

You couldn’t mistake his profile, which he earned one day out on Sparta’s Perch Lake. Steve and his younger brother Mark were paddling a canoe in search of golf balls to sell for extra money. Someone called “fore!” Mark saw the ball coming and ducked, but Steve ended up with that signature bump in his nose.

Then there was the time he was ice fishing up in Minnesota with old buddy Lowell. Steve hopped on the snowmobile, grabbed the throttle with one of his worn, scarred hands, and cranked it wide open. His joy in feeling the cold air against his face…being legally blind he hadn’t felt that since his younger motorcycle days.

A million moments and cherished memories, far too many to share. In the end, no one would dispute it was fifty-five years well-lived.

Steven Curtis Johnson was born in La Crosse, November 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 Bachelor’s 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. Steve was preceded in death by his parents and Leader Dogs Thor and Ripley.

Looking back now, Steve’s favorite Bible verse seems so fitting:“Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)In the very end, whether we can physically see with our eyes or not, we fall back on our faith. In one of Steve’s final Facebook posts he asked us all to “try to understand what is really important in life. Don’t be too proud to ask for help. We all want to be independent, but let’s strive for interdependence, as we may all need each other at some point in our lives. Too often it is hard for us to just tell those around us how much we appreciate them. With that said, I love you all…”

Special thanks to the medical staff at UW Health, Gundersen Lutheran Hospital and Hillview Health Care that cared for Steve.

A celebration of life will be hosted by his siblings at Red Pines Bar & Grill in Brice Prairie on Sunday, April 14, from 2-5 pm. Steve wanted a casual, fun gathering and asked visitors to come dressed in their favorite rock t-shirt, Wisconsin sports gear, or a Jimmy Buffett-style Hawaiian shirt. Steve asked that donations be made to the following organizations that were dear to his heart: North American Squirrel Association, Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, or the La Crosse Lions Charities – Leader Dog.




  1. Tim and Barb Hopping

    Your family is in our thoughts and prayers during this time. We are sure he is seeing all the wonders of heaven while still being here with you in spirit.

    • sandy Reinhart

      To Steve Johnson’s family

      I recently read the beautiful obituary written for your dear family member. I was so saddened to hear of Steve departing from our world, but also know that Steve had a good soul who now will be rejoicing in the heavens.

      I know this about Steve, because I was a part time nurse on the night shift who cared for him at Hillview Healthcare Center. I was his nurse the night we received the call from UW Madison, that they had a donor for Steve! How excited I was as his nurse and I still can picture him nervously moving about in his excitement!

      I saw Steve for the first time since that night in the Dollar Store on Mormon Coulee Road. I wanted so badly to approach Steve and tell him who I was and that I was his nurse the night he got that call from Madison. Unfortunately I didn’t, as I “chickened out.” Oh how I wish I hadn’t.

      The last time I saw Steve was when driving downtown. He was walking with his leader dog with another gal and her leader dog. It made my heart happy. This was after reading the lovely article in the La Crosse Tribune about Steve, which I still have.

      My deepest condolences to you all.
      I know he will be missed, but with God, he will no longer be suffering with his limitations.

      May God bless all of you. I will always have Steve in a special place in my heart.

      Sandy Reinhart

  2. Jackie Eastwood

    I’ve known Steve for over 15 years. He was an active participant on our Transit Coordinating Council and Committee on Transit and Active Transportation. I always found him to be an inspiration. He didn’t let his physical challenges get him down and he always found time to help others. I will really miss him.

  3. Sandy Drake

    Sending my most sincere sympathy to the family and friends of Steve . I only met Steve a couple of times thru. a very good friend of his , Tony Parsneau. But he seemed like a very nice , respectable man . I know Tony always talked of him and considered him a best friend . They communicated quite often . Tony unfortunately passed I think it was 3 years ago . God Bless !!!
    Sandy Drake

  4. Sue Knopf

    Steve was a remarkable man. I didn’t know him well but met him when he was very ill and in a wheel chair. It was amazing to see him next walking and looking much healthier. He never felt sorry for himself and learned how to use technology to keep in touch—I remember emailing him newsletter stories that his computer could read aloud. In later years it was great to read about his accomplishments and see him walking around town with his leader dog. I know the way he lived his life must be an inspiration to many people.

  5. Carla Pena

    I met Steve when I was working at Hillview in the late 1980s. I was in college at the time and asked Steve if he would let my friend and me interview him for a presentation. He agreed. I remeber the time he took out one of his artificial eyes so my daughter could look at it. Then he said you can put it back in. I had never done that before. He said make sure you put the eye in this dierection or my eye will look out to the side. He proceeded to tell me how to rinse it and put it back in. I did it easily.
    I always thought of him as hero. When ever I think things are bad, I think of how he made the most of his life even though he had a disability and used his life to help others and set a positive example.
    I am sorry I will not be able to attend his celebration of life. I will always remember his determination, his fortitude, his intelligence and his ability to boundaries of what he could do. He will always be remembered.

  6. Janell Groskreutz

    I was blessed to work with Steve on the recreation committee for the Counsel of the blind. We planned a canoe trip in northern Wisconsin for the group and it was super fun spending the day on the river with Steve and his beautiful dog, Bennett! A story I will always remember is a story he told me when I got my first guide dog. Steve and a friend were somewhere in the north woods and were at a candy store. Steve was perusing the isles when his friend told him to check and see where his dog’s head was. Sure enough, when he reached down, Bennett had his entire head in the candy bucket and was going to town on all the goodies! That story still makes me laugh! Steve and I loved sharing our hunting and fishing stories. I was so jealous when he shot his big buck a few years ago! I am sure Steve will be missed!! Rest in peace my friend!!

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