Johnson became a criminalist for the Gresham Police Department

Connie F. Johnson, former assistant publisher of The Gresham Outlook, died Thursday, Aug. 24, in Gresham at the age of 72.

Johnson, who just last year was griping to The Outlook that Social Security officials confused him with his late wife and declared him dead, enlivened every 10 a.m. coffee session at Gresham's Jazzy Bagel with tales and droll stories.

'He loved sharing history and was a great storyteller,' remembered Bonnie Irwin, wife of former Outlook publisher, Lee Irwin.

His funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 29, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 507 W. Powell Blvd. A reception will follow at the church and a committal service will be at Gresham Pioneer Cemetery.

One of the self-described old codgers who gathered for daily morning coffee in downtown Gresham, Johnson could be relied on for an opinion or a memory, or both. He was a journalist, historian, and as first criminalist for the Gresham police department, established the city's crime lab.

In retirement years, he and his small black spaniel mix, Rat Dog, traveled the Oregon and Lewis and Clark trails, reveling in Western history. Rat Dog, he always said, was a canine historian able to find an old trail just by sniffing. He and Rat Dog logged many miles before the dog's death.

Traveling solo, Johnson completed his last cross-country trip just a few weeks before his death.

'Almost all of us knew then that it was his last journey,' said his morning coffee friend, David Qualls. 'Connie had the longest list of ailments I've ever seen and was on borrowed time for as long as I've known him. But he was always positive.'

'He knew roads. He knew every road and highway and where it went,' remembered Marv Ogle.

Connie Johnson was born July 19, 1934, in Seymour, Iowa, son of Carl and Una (Merrit) Johnson. He grew up in Anita, Iowa, where he graduated from high school. He enlisted in the Air Force and served during the Korean War, earning the rank of sergeant. While in the service, he was a stand-in during the filming of 'The Glen Miller Story.'

He and Burnell Y. Knutson were married Aug. 26, 1955, in Thief River, Minn. The pair celebrated their 50th anniversary last year just before her death.

After his honorable discharge in 1956, he enrolled in Iowa State University, graduating with a degree in journalism in 1960. He was editor of the local newspaper in Harlan, Iowa, and then moved to Albany, Oregon, where he worked for the Albany-Democrat Herald. In the mid-1960s he became publisher of the Blue Mountain Eagle in John Day. In 1967, he was assistant editor for the Grundy, Iowa, Spokesman Press, then joined the Springfield (Oregon) News as assistant editor and came to The Outlook in 1972, where he was assistant publisher until 1975.

An early candidate for open-heart surgery, Johnson endured several serious surgeries during his lifetime. Shortly after leaving The Outlook, he joined the Gresham police department and spent more than 1,000 classroom hours graduating from the Federal Bureau of Investigation academy as a criminalist. He retired from that job in 1988.

His photos of the December 1978 United Airlines DC-8 plane crash at Northeast 157th and Burnside won a Kodak Law Enforcement Photography Award.

He was an avid fisherman, and he and his wife shared an interest in bird watching in their backyard. He was a member and past-president of the Gresham Historical Society and the Oregon and California Trails Association, as well as being a member of the Oregon Historical Society, the Oregon Trails Association, the Blue Mountain Masonic Lodge, the International Association for Identification, Oregon Peace Officers Association, Oregon Washington Lawman's Association and Canadian Identification Society.

He is survived by children, Shari Needham of Gresham, Greg Johnson of South Bend, Wash., David Johnson of Salem, and Jo Johnson of Gresham; brother, Hans Johnson of Omaha, Neb., and sisters, Marilyn Ersham and Norma Donellan of Greenfield, Iowa, and Eleanor Bricker of Kansas City, Kansas; 10 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

The family suggests contributions to Oregon Historical Society and the American Heart Association.

Gresham Funeral Chapel is in charge of the arrangements.

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