Challenger Johnson said he wants on city council to give back to community

Rick Johnson says he's running for Detroit Lakes City Council because he wants to give back to a community that has been good to him. Johnson, 62, is retired from a sales position at PRO Systems, but people in the community may also know him as a...


Rick Johnson says he’s running for Detroit Lakes City Council because he wants to give back to a community that has been good to him.

Johnson, 62, is retired from a sales position at PRO Systems, but people in the community may also know him as a part-time bartender at Fireside or as a disc jockey at KDLM.

He is running against longtime alderman Dave Aune for the Ward 2 seat on the council.

Johnson was born in Fargo and graduated from Fargo North High School before going on to graduate cum laude with degrees in theater and computer science from what was then Moorhead State University.

“I never did figure out what I wanted to do (for a living). I just enjoy my life,” he said with a laugh.


Before settling down in Detroit Lakes, Johnson moved around a lot and let life take him in unexpected directions.

For example, he was working at Team Electronics at West Acres when a show came to the mall featuring marionettes, or puppets controlled from above using wires or strings.

He was offered a job as a masterminder, a marionette’s puppeteer.

“It sounded intriguing,” he said.

So he moved to Wisconsin Dells for the summer, working the marionette show in Storybook Gardens.

The puppeteers dressed in black and were in full view of the audience as they worked the colorful puppets, but people quickly forgot about them and focused on the action, he said.

“I never regretted that,” he said. “That was a nice experience.”

On his way home to Fargo he stopped to visit a friend in Minneapolis, who told him there was a job opening at Audio King, a high-end electronics store.


Although Johnson felt like he didn’t have much of a shot at the coveted position, he filled out an application, and to his surprise “they virtually hired me on the spot,” he said.

Curiously, he said, his theater major has opened as many doors for him throughout his life as his computer science degree.

The potential employer would look at his resume and say “a theater degree! We can use someone with some imagination around here.”

He has been active in all aspects of theater, acting, directing, art, sound and music, and has been involved with the Straw Hat Players at Moorhead State and locally with Playhouse 412.

In the Twin Cities, he worked at Audio King for half a dozen years, before deciding there was no room for advancement.

“So I packed up and drove to Los Angeles,” he said. “I got a job at a wholesale distributor called Volutone, the largest distributor in Los Angeles.”

He helped raise wholesale sales there from a quarter of a million dollars to several million dollars a year by the time he left, he said.

He lived there from 1982 to 1995, then decided to move back to Minnesota.


“Because of flood, fire, riots and earthquakes I’d had enough,” he said.

He had to deal with the Rodney King riots, the occasional California wildfire, which are still happening, and flooded streets during rainy season because he lived near the Los Angeles River.

In 1994, the Northridge earthquake hit 6.7 on the Richter scale and “basically destroyed my condo and my car,” he said. “There were literally 2,000 aftershocks a month for a couple of months, it felt like an 18-wheeler driving by the house. I had to take a small vacation to Utah just so I could get a good night’s sleep,” he said. “We joked about it, but it was really not that much fun.”

He moved to Redwood Falls where a friend lived, and got a job cooking at Jackpot Junction casino.

“I enjoy cooking,” he said. “I cooked at The Refuge a few times, and have done some cooking at United Methodist,” where he sings in the choir.

He moved to Detroit Lakes in 1999 to take a job at PRO Systems. He has worked part-time as a disc jockey at KDLM Radio and as a bartender at the Fireside. He also worked part-time at the city liquor store before it moved to its new location.

“One of the things I like about Detroit Lakes is the people. They’re always friendly, I haven’t met one I don’t like. In L.A., they hardly give you the time of day, and Minneapolis is not much better,” he said.

Other small communities he has lived in aren’t that welcoming “unless you’re born there,” he said. But Detroit Lakes has been different, he added, “so I thought I might be able to give back to the community by being involved in the city council … I have good all-round experience in a lot of areas. I can approach everything with a fresh mind and an experienced mind, and I want to make sure everybody gets a fair deal.”


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