Gift from C. Conrad Johnson estate benefits Rosecrance endowment

Conrad Johnson
Conrad Johnson

Rosecrance recently received a generous donation from the trust of Rockford resident C. Conrad Johnson, who was recognized as the oldest living man in the U.S. at 110 years of age.

The $25,000 gift was placed into Rosecrance’s endowment, which helps secure the organization’s foundation into the future.

Johnson, one of 10 children, was born in Sweden in 1904. At age 19, he came to the U.S. and moved to Rockford after about a year of living in Chicago.

Though his early passion was baking, he pursued a carpentry career in Rockford. He was a self-made man who started and ran a successful remodeling business. Johnson was an early house flipper, often buying up homes and empty lots and moving the homes to the empty lots. He would fix up the homes and then sell them.

Longtime friend LaVerne Larson, who managed Johnson’s trust and had known Johnson since childhood, said Johnson made conservative, smart investments throughout his life and wanted the money he made to benefit organizations that work with children. Johnson lived on his own until 2004 and then moved to Peterson Meadows, where he lived until April 2014. A stroke at that time precipitated a move to P.A. Peterson, which is where Johnson lived until his death on Dec. 23, 2014.

Larson said Johnson, who spoke with a Swedish accent, attributed his longevity to daily exercise and oatmeal.

“He was a good-hearted soul,” Larson said. “I tried many times to convince him to give his funds away while he was still alive, but he would always say, ‘no, no, no.’”

Johnson was married twice but never had any children. Rosecrance’s founders, Dr. James and Fanny Rosecrance, had a similar story. They never had children of their own but opened their house in New Milford to lost and neglected children. In her will, Fanny left their home to be used as an orphanage.

The gift from Johnson comes at a special time, as Rosecrance is preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016. Johnson left money to several other area organizations, including the Swedish Historical Society of Rockford, Barbara Olson Center of Hope and The Salvation Army.

“Rosecrance is so honored to be included in the gifts that Mr. Johnson left to his community. He sounds like a wonderful, caring human being; I only wish we’d had the opportunity to thank him in person,” said Anne Boccignone, Rosecrance’s vice president of development.

“We are so grateful to Mr. Johnson and others like him who remember us in their wills. The legacy of support that he shared with us will help ensure our ability to serve families and our community for another 100 years.”