Friends say Mike Johnson, who died in a police shootout, was a 'lovely soul'
Words painted by Anya Doll into the side of a two-piece oak table Mike Johnson built in 1999 seem prophetic now that he has passed on:
Knowing that the road to heaven leads often through hell we remember the path of peace is marked by battles.
That table, a memorial to World War II veteran alumni of Pacific University, sits near a fireplace on the second floor of the campus library. It's just one of many pieces Johnson, a master woodworker, created for friends and acquaintances during his years in Forest Grove.
Doll, who was married to Johnson for 15 years, said in a statement last week that her husband was a "loving artist and carpenter, engineer and jester" who'd been "challenged in unfathomable ways by bipolar disorder." (See entire statement on page A4).
"I believe I am safe in saying he would be very remorseful for any suffering or negativity created by his choices," she wrote.
Johnson died Nov. 6 in front of Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center in Portland. According to a police report, Portland officers responded to a call about a man holding a gun to his head and tried to start a dialogue with Johnson in his final hour but were unsuccessful. The report said Johnson fired two rounds into the ground, then fired a shot in the direction of the officers, who then shot him.
Friends of Johnson expressed their shock and sorrow over the sudden loss of someone "so real and raw," in the words of Forest Grove resident Kristin Ludwig, one of several people who, along with Johnson, attended an alternative service called The Backdoor at the Forest Grove United Church of Christ years ago.
Johnson's death at age 51 "brings up all the people we have loved and who died before their time," said Ludwig.
Al Hershman, who knew Johnson for more than 20 years, said his friend was a loving husband and father and a kind and generous man. He and Johnson forged a friendship built on a mutual appreciation for art, creativity and dedication to craft.
"Mike was an absolute artist of a carpenter," said Hershman, who served as the photographer for Johnson's wedding to Doll in 2000 in the back yard of Cecelia Warner's home in Old Town Forest Grove. "I lent him stuff and he lent me stuff. He helped me see the possibilities and gave me the courage to take on projects I wouldn't have otherwise."
Hershman, who worked as a drug and alcohol counselor at the federal correctional institution in Sheridan for 25 years, added a string of adjectives to describe his friend: smart, curious, friendly, fearless, happy-go-lucky, gracious, sweet, open, honest, giving and trustworthy.
Johnson, who grew up in Aloha and graduated from Aloha High School, was also very community-minded, said Hershman. The glass-topped oak table he built for Pacific is a tribute to his craftsmanship: "His first piece of custom furniture is absolutely stunning."
Dick Kroll was the senior FGUCC minister while The Backdoor service was going on. "Anya and Mike were a part of that," he said. "It was a very small, very tight-knit group, and the people in it seemed to be searching for meaning and relationship with the divine without being tied to traditional Christianity in any way."
Johnson, Kroll and several others later formed a men's group that met informally to talk and support each other, Kroll said.
Johnson would come up with mechanical ideas "and he could just put them together," added Kroll. Performing remodels of "very old and very expensive homes" in Portland's West Hills gave Johnson opportunities to put his ideas to work.
"Mike was meticulous. He'd see a problem that needed a creative solution and he'd just do it," Kroll said. "That part of him stood out to me."
The home Johnson and Doll built themselves on Northwest Shearer Hill Road outside Forest Grove where Doll still lives is "one of his finest physical efforts," said Hershman.
Though known as a craftsman, Johnson's main underlying drive was to help people and the planet. He served as a volunteer in the Forest Grove community, at the Tillamook Animal Shelter, the Coast Guard Auxiliary in Garibaldi and anywhere he saw he could help.
He also was a big supporter of Ballet Forest Grove, making numerous props still used in performances today, according to artistic director Patty Petersen. Johnson created the wooden "snow cradle" used in The Nutcracker each year a feature that turns from side to side above the stage, dropping faux "snow" to enhance the production.
Doll and Johnson danced together in the local version of the holiday staple from 2006 to 2009. This year's Nutcracker program will include a dedication to Johnson that includes these words: "When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure."
Johnson will also be remembered for his softer side.
"I attended his wedding when he married Anya," said Eric Canon, a Forest Grove metal artist who hired Johnson to build the back porch and stairway on his Elm Street home and also worked with him on other projects. "He cried during the ceremony. He was moved by what was happening and grateful for Anya, that she would be his wife."
Johnson was also a doting stepfather to Doll's daughter, Hannah Davita Doll-Schmitz, and the two of them sometimes came by Canon's metal shop. "The relationship between this young girl and Mike was wonderful to see," said Canon.
Kim Monteleone, who now lives in Colorado, met Doll when the two of them volunteered with Pies for Peace, a longtime Forest Grove organization that baked and sold pies as a fundraiser for Mercy Corps.
She recalled a special day trip to Oceanside with Johnson, Doll and Doll-Schmitz.
"It was one of my best memories," said Monteleone. "Mike ran, climbed sand dunes, used sea grass as a playful whip, dammed streams and at the end of the day he stood gracefully in the waves, with arms outstretched, and everything seemed right.
"He was a lovely soul."