Ralph Johnson honored for work at Library Link Site in Isanti

By Rachel Kytonen

Ralph Johnson was a true believer in giving back to the community.

Having lived in the Isanti community for over 30 years prior to his death in March, Ralph’s spirit lives on within the community in many different ways.

Johnson, owner of Classic Cabinetry, designed most of the shelving inside the Library Link Site in Isanti, and rebuilt the other shelving found inside the Site.

In honor of his work and dedication to the Link Site, a commemorative plaque now graces the shelving inside the Link Site in honor of Ralph.

Ralph Johnson’s daughters Laura Lillemo and Danielle Johnson stand next to the commemorative plaque in honor of their father that now graces the shelves at the Library Link Site in Isanti. Ralph passed away March 16, and built and designed the shelves inside the link site, and was very active in the Isanti community. Photo by Rachel Kytonen

Growing up in McGregor, Ralph always felt a sense of community.

“My father grew up in a small town, and always felt a sense of community,” said Danielle Johnson, Ralph’s daughter. “He was used to everyone working together to get things done.”

Sue Larson, member of the Friends of the Isanti Area Library, said Ralph was a supporter of a library in Isanti since the concept was first discussed.

“Right away, Ralph offered the use of his truck and trailer to move things into the Link Site,” Sue explained. “He designed some of the shelving in the Link Site and the other older shelving he took apart and rebuilt to give us as much floor space as possible.”

Ralph opened his first cabinetry business in Blaine in 1987, and built his current shop in Isanti in 1996. Danielle explained her father received a teaching degree, but then decided on a new career in cabinetry. 

“In 1971, he started doing cabinetry out of the garage at our  mother’s home,” Danielle said. “He liked building things. For example, I wanted a bench for the end of my bed, and he built me this huge full length bench for Christmas one year.”

Danielle mentioned her father also built her son’s changing table, and enjoyed spending time with his grandson.

“My father was an amazing father, and enjoyed being a grandfather,” Danielle said. “He’d do anything to make us smile.”

Danielle and Laura mentioned their father taught them how to cook, hunt, fish and took them to the cabin on the weekends.

“Our father always made sure we were always doing something,” Danielle said. “He bought me my first pair of skis and my first snowboard.”

Ralph served on the Isanti City Council from 2002 to 2008. He also served on the Isanti Economic Development Authority, Isanti Planning Commission, and the Community Involvement Team.

“Ralph always had an idea on how to build something so it would look good,” Sue said. “He really never stopped. He was very active in the community, and at one time was president of Faith Lutheran Church. He supported a lot of community events. He just did things because that’s where his heart was.”

One other character trait of Ralph that everyone knew was he was very straight-forward.

“Our father was a very generous person, but also very straight-forward with people,” Laura said. “He was very opinionated. He would always let you know what he thought.”

Danielle and her cousin David are currently running Classic Cabinetry and are hoping to keep the business going. Danielle said she often helped in her father’s shop from a young age.

“One of Ralph’s hopes was to have Danielle take over the business,” Sue said.

Danielle and Laura feel Ralph always supported building a library in Isanti because he was a firm believer in education.

“He preached education to me, and it was always very important to me,” Laura said.

“He always wanted us to do the best we could,” Danielle added.

Both Danielle and Laura said they still miss their father very much and were amazed at the amount of support they received after their father’s passing.

“I just wish I could pick up a phone and call him,” Danielle said. “When I walk into the shop I still expect to see him.