LAURENCE STEINGRIMUR GUDNI JOHNSON
1928 - 2001
Teacher/INL of NA President Hnausa/Riverton/Selkirk, MB
Laurence or better known as “Larry, is a gentleman in the truest and best sense of the word. He is calm, kindly, sensible, honorable and reliable, with a deep devotion to family and community. Pride in heritage and culture enhances rather than diminishes his feelings for his country.” It is in his memory that the Icelandic National League of North America established the Laurence S. G. Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003 to be bestowed upon a recipient for “contributions not only to the Icelandic Community but also to the community at large”.
Larry, the first of seven children to be born to Kapitóla (Sigvaldason) and Einar Johnson, was born at the Akri Homestead in Hnausa, MB. His paternal grandparents, Jón Guðmundsson and Steinunn Magnúsdóttir emigrated from Seyðisfjörður in 1882, lived in Winnipeg for 2 years and then settled at Gíslastaðir, near Riverton, MB in 1884. His maternal grandfather, Jón Sigvaldason, from the Hegranes, Skaga region in northern Iceland, married Sigrún (Runa) Jóhanna Thorgrimsdóttir in 1898 at the family homestead Akri. The Johnson family moved to Riverton, MB where Laurence lived until he attended grade 12 in Stonewall, MB. After completing grade 12, Laurence built the roof on the school on Hecla Island. He completed a 6-week Teacher Training course prior to teaching in the two-room school on Hecla Island the following year.
After 2 years on Hecla Island, Larry became a Carnie and travelled throughout northern Ontario running rides for a carnival. When a flood floated his suitcase past him, he took that as a sign to change jobs and became the foreman of a logging camp for Abitibi in Kapuskasing, ON. Laurence married Edith Mary Spence in Ansonville, ON in 1953. They have one son and two daughters. After their marriage, Larry and Edith moved to Timmins, ON, where Larry became a motorcycle cop with the Timmins Police Force. Over the years, he enjoyed a number of other different occupations, including sales, and motel and retail management.
In 1962, Larry returned to his roots and moved the family to the Riverton and Arborg area, working in retail management. In 1968, while working full-time managing the Arborg Co-op store, Larry drove from Arborg and later Riverton 2 evenings a week to teach Accounting at Red River Community College and another 2 evenings a week to attend classes as a student at the University of Manitoba. In 1970, he started teaching accounting and retailing with the Lord Selkirk School Division in Selkirk, MB. He continued taking courses in the evenings as well as during the summer months, completing his Bachelor of Pedagogy and graduating from the University of Manitoba in 1975. He retired from the Lord Selkirk School Division in 1988, on his 60th birthday. Many, many former students and their families continue to feel his influence.
All of his life, Larry contributed greatly to our society. Larry’s community service philosophy was “The fabric of the community is enhanced by the people who volunteer their services.” Over the years Larry volunteered his services to the Selkirk & District Chamber of Commerce, Selkirk & District Hospital Board, the Manitoba Health Organization, the Interlake Health Network, the Selkirk Community Library Board, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Selkirk Arts Festival, the Heart & Stroke Foundation and the Icelandic National League. For his extensive community service, Larry was honoured as Selkirk’s Citizen of the Year for 1993. In 1994, the Year of the Family, Larry was proud that his family was honoured as
a Family of the Year by the Province of Manitoba.
Larry loved to travel with Edith. In addition to their trips to Iceland, they had also been to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and across Canada and the United States. One of Larry and Edith’s favourite pastimes was Old Time Dancing. They often drove through the night returning from a dance, and were recognized in halls throughout Manitoba. They were featured in an episode of Cross-Country Canada. Larry also enjoyed working on home improvements, gardening, painting, and reading. His first priority was his family. His world revolved around Edith and they did everything together. Laurence was a great father and set a wonderful example as a parent. He spent many hours playing cribbage and board games, talking to his children and guiding them through their lives. He spent much of his time with his grandchildren, singing babies to sleep with Icelandic songs, going to many soccer and hockey games, swimming lessons and dance recitals and proudly including them in Icelandic activities and events. Laurence was a man who touched many lives and left us with wonderful memories and a life that is better because of him and his accomplishments.
Larry was very proud of his Icelandic heritage and was extensively involved in Icelandic cultural activities throughout North America and Iceland. He was a long-standing member of and was a Past President of the Selkirk Brúin Chapter of the INL of NA. He was also a Past President of the Icelandic National League of North America. While serving as President, he travelled to Iceland on numerous occasions to represent the INL at cultural functions. His first official function as President of the INL of NA was a trip to Iceland as a guest of the Icelandic Government to attend a ceremony honouring those who emigrated from Iceland to North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He attended the sod turning of the Hofsos Emigration Centre in Hofsos, Iceland and returned the following year for the Centre’s official opening.
Larry and Edith often hosted visitors and dignitaries both at their home and on tours to experience sites of local and Icelandic cultural significance. Larry’s knowledge, public speaking skills and fluency of the Icelandic language made him a highly regarded and often requested speaker at many functions.
At the time of his death, Larry was the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the New Iceland Heritage Museum in Gimli, MB. Laurence passed away on May 24, 2001 at home in Selkirk, MB.
Written by his children, Larry Johnson, Patsy Zdrill and Kathy Dahlin