A great man has died and we will miss him being on this earth. Merlyn Johnson died peacefully in his sleep on April 5, 2014, after a short battle with lung cancer. He was born in Minneapolis, Minn., on April 1, 1927, to Mary and Uno Johnson. That was the beginning of a happy, rewarding and productive life lived to the fullest. Doc was fond of saying that at the age of 87, he had no regrets!
After graduating from Edison High School, Merlyn enlisted in the Army in July of 1945, just as WWII was winding down. He served his tour of duty while also having the opportunity to play football, basketball and softball on the teams where he was stationed. His athletic skills were impressive and he was in high demand! In the fall of 1947, he enrolled in the pre-dental program at Gustavus Aldophus and was admitted to the University of Minnesota dental school in 1950. After earning his D.D.S. degree, he married the love of his life, Marie, in June of 1954. They moved to Ashby, Minn., and opened his one-chair dental clinic. After realizing that operating a private practice was not what he wanted to do the rest of his life, he returned to the Army and became an oral surgeon. He excelled at facial reconstruction and loved his work, but it required long hours and frequent transfers to military bases. During these years his daughter, Kim, and son, Bryce, were born. The family lived in Texas, New Mexico and Hawaii before he was honorably discharged in 1960 and commissioned to the United States Public Health Service Officer Corps in 1964 after obtaining his master’s degree in public health administration from the University of Michigan. During this tenure he achieved the rank of captain in the officer corps and served as the area dental director for the Indian Health Service in Albuquerque, N.M., and Billings. His dedication to providing quality service to his patients made him one of the most prestigious and respected members of the Public Health Service and he was awarded the PHS Meritorious Service Medal in 1975. He retired at the age of 55 in 1982.
Being transferred to Montana in 1968 was his dream scenario. He loved the outdoors and taught his children to love it, too. The years were filled with golfing, camping, skiing, and goose and duck hunting. He always had the faithful yellow lab at his side and never understood why anyone would want any other kind of dog! Even after retiring, Doc never let his mind “rest.” He became the owner of five patents. His inventions included decorative lawn rocks, and knife, gun, spice, and jewelry keepers. Nothing was more important than family, and he believed that education was the foundation for a successful life. His influence on Kim, Bryce and his four grandchildren was immense. His philosophy of setting a life goal, achieving it, and going beyond it was a message he never stopped giving to them. “When you decide what it’s going to be, don’t let anything stand in your way. Go for it — 100 percent. And after you get that, then all you have to do is maintain it for the rest of your life.”
Merlyn’s loyalty and influence extended to the many cherished friends he felt so blessed to have made during his life. Wherever he went, he knew someone or made a new friend! Doc possessed a remarkable sense of humor and was famous for his countless stories and the pranks he pulled on family and friends. He was involved in several organizations, including the Shriners. His children are always humbled when someone tells them that Doc was one of the greatest people they ever knew!
Merlyn is survived by his wife, Marie; his children, Kim (Vic) Halverson, of Billings, Bryce (Laura) Johnson, of Oklahoma City; and four grandchildren, Quinn, Cole, Alyx, and Evin; in addition to numerous nieces, nephews and cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Shirley.
The family wishes to thank those who supported Merlyn in his final days: His doctor, Neal Sorensen; RiverStone Hospice nurse, Sue Vogel, and her amazing colleagues; caregiver Diane Horton; housekeeper Jean Gernsten; and chef Cindy Zimmer. All made it possible for Mom and Doc to live independently at their home. Memorials may be made to RiverStone Hospice, 123 S. 27th St., Billings, MT 59101.
Cremation has taken place. A memorial service celebrating Doc’s life will be held at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, 1241 Crawford Drive, on Friday, April 11, at 3 p.m. Memories and condolences may be shared with the family at www.dahlfuneralchapel.com.