Donald Johnson


Donald Johnson, 88, formerly of Estherville, passed away on June 26, 2024 at his Iowa City residence.

Don was born on June 16, 1936 in Estherville, Iowa to Ernest “EC” and Ethel (Minor) Johnson. Don graduated from Estherville High School in 1954 after youthful forays exploring water tower maintenance and munitions. After a service trip to Alaska doing church construction on the Kenai peninsula, he hitchhiked home with a dog named Knick. Don then went on to the University of Iowa where he joined the Hawkeye Bands. Don played euphonium in the Hawkeye Marching Band at the 1956 and 1958 Rose Bowl Parades and Games. He graduated with a bachelor’s in music education and went on to complete his Doctorate of Divinity from the University of Dubuque in 1961. He then completed his master’s degree in psychology from St. Cloud State University. Although he remained active in the pastorate by serving the Huntington and Superior United Methodist Churches, Don also worked as a psychology professor and counselor at Iowa Lakes Community College from 1968 until his retirement in 2000. 

Family was Don’s number one priority. He was united in marriage with his beloved wife Mariel (Schubert) on July 30, 1971 and was devoted father to his three children. Always one for adventure, he obtained his pilot’s license in the 1950’s as a member of the Hawkeye Flying Club. Don sparked his children’s interest in aviation by becoming a flight instructor, ultralight trainer, and flight school owner where he taught many private pilots over the years. His flight adventures regularly took the family to the EAA Airshow at Oshkosh, WI.  

Music was a constant in Don’s life and led to different adventures. He played in the Northwest Iowa, Iowa City, and Park Rapids community bands and Windjammers Unlimited, the Circus Music Historical Society. He was a great supporter of his children’s and grandchildren’s musical pursuits, too. Although he shared his passions for music and flight most actively, Don also brought joy to his family with adventures in horseback riding, scuba diving, welding, and traveling to their Minnesota residence and beyond. 

Don is survived by his wife, Mariel; children: Charles Ernest Johnson, Bethelen Joy Johnson, and Christina Rachel Johnson (Mark Remme); grandchildren: Casey Alana Powers, Ayden Garvey Powers, Avalyn Rachel Johnson Remme and Peter Josiah Johnson Remme as well as his sister-in-law, Carol Jo Johnson-Miller, and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Merle Johnson.

A celebration of Don’s life will be held on July 30, 2024 at 11 a.m. in Estherville’s First Christian Church, 205 North 7th Street. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Don’s name to the Northwest Iowa Community Band, the Friends of the Estherville Public Library, or the Emmet County Animal Shelter. Online condolences may be shared at