Mildred L Johnson, the first woman to try a case before the North Dakota Supreme Court and the first woman to serve on the Board of Higher Education, died on September 12 at her home in Perham, Minnesota. She was 96.
Mildred Burns was born to Leonard and Louise Burns on January 26th, 1918. She spent her early childhood in Tolna, ND, moving at age nine to Grand Forks, where her parents owned a grocery store. Mildred received her law degree from UND in 1939. The only woman in her class, she was awarded the Order of the Coif: the highest academic honor for graduating law students in the United States. Following graduation she worked for the Carrol Day Law Firm in Grand Forks.
In September 1940, Mildred married Vernon M Johnson. She moved to Wahpeton and joined his law firm, Johnson and Milloy (later Johnson, Johnson, Stokes, Sandberg and Kragness). Mildred and Vernon practiced together for 48 years. Vernon, who also served two terms as Speaker of the North Dakota House of Representatives in the 1940s (as well as being voted the "Handsomest Representative" in 1942!), died in 1996.
From 1952 to 1966, Mildred served two terms on the North Dakota Board of Higher Education, twice serving as president. She was also appointed to the National Association of Governing Boards for Higher Education.
The library at the North Dakota State College of Science was christened the Mildred Johnson Library in 1971 in recognition of her work on behalf of the school, including land acquisitions during her tenure on the Board that greatly expanded the campus. In 2002, she received the college's first honorary associate's degree.
Chosen "Woman of the Year" in education by the North Dakota Education Association in 1964, Mildred was named the 1973 "Woman of the Year" in law. UND awarded her with its highest alumni honor, The Sioux Award, in 1988.
Mildred was a Girl Scout and Boy Scout leader; taught Sunday school and volunteered at "Lutefisk" suppers at Bethel Lutheran Church, where she was member for 74 years; coached Student Congress at Wahpeton High School; and taught Business Law at NDSCS for over 20 years.
Upon retirement, Mildred and Vernon spent 15 happy winters in West Palm Beach, FL. She spent 61 summers at the family cottage on Ottertail Lake, which was next door to the cottage of her sister, Helen, with whom she was extremely close.
Mildred is survived by her three children: Gail Johnson, Ewing, NJ; Laurel Hillier, New York, NY and Russell Johnson, New York, NY, and four grandchildren: Thea Johnson, Palo Alto, CA; Samuel Johnson, Beijing, China; Anne Hillier, Cambridge, MA; and Alison Hillier, New York, NY. She was greatly loved and will be truly missed.
The Funeral Service will be Saturday, 10:30 a.m., at Bethel Lutheran Church, Wahpeton, with visitation one hour before the service. Interment will be at Fairview Cemetery, Wahpeton. Arrangements have been entrusted to Vertin-Munson Funeral Home, Wahpeton.
Memorials may be given to NDSCS for the Mildred Johnson Library.
September 18, 2014