Ruby Helen Johnson reared 10 children, yet she found time throughout her busy life for numerous acts of community service — often done quietly and behind the scenes.
A social justice advocate, Johnson was a longtime volunteer with the League of Catholic Women. Through that organization and others, she worked to provide meals and entertainment for isolated older people.
She was a benefactor, as well, for newly arrived teen immigrants and other young people who needed help or even a home.
Johnson, of Golden Valley, died of cancer on Sept. 3. She was 86.
“There was always room for one more,” said daughter Paula Carlson. “She acted out of faith.”
Born in Hibbing, Minn., Ruby Johnson was the youngest of the three children of Finnish immigrants John and Helen Johnson. Her father was a miner near Hibbing until he died in a mining accident in 1945.
After attending Hibbing Junior College, she moved to Minneapolis and began working for the American Petroleum Institute.
In 1952, she married attorney Vincent Johnson and converted to his Catholic faith. She took to heart her new religion’s call to service, particularly to help the poor, the downtrodden and the lonely, her family said.
“The deal was she became a Catholic and I became a Democrat,” Vincent Johnson, 92, and a senior partner with the Speeter & Johnson law firm, loves to say in jest.
Much of her work was faith-based though Catholic Charities and organizations tied to it, their son Ted Johnson said.
She was president of Tuesday Club, an organization of the League of Catholic Women in downtown Minneapolis. Through that nonprofit, she helped provide meals and entertainment activities for older adults. She also volunteered for the Clothes Closet, a program for women returning to work after a life crisis.
She volunteered as well for Loaves and Fishes in downtown Minneapolis, providing meals for the homeless. She often took her children into poor neighborhoods for her acts of kindness. She was a volunteer for Meals on Wheels, too.
In the 1970s, she served as youth group coordinator for St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Golden Valley, where she was active in social ministries.
“Many of her activities were also about looking for the less fortunate in smaller ways,” Ted Johnson said.
He told of his mother sponsoring a blind girl who lived with her grandmother. She would give the girl rides, raise money for her, and help her find tutors and medical help as she made her way through high school, then college.
Daughter Paula Carlson recalls when her mom took in a teenage girl whose parents had kicked her out of the house. Ruby didn’t know that she’d been kicked out for being pregnant. Paula calls that just one more example of how her mom “would take people under her wing.”
Ruby Johnson was very much an adherent of the Mahatma Gandhi philosophy, “My life is my message,” Ted Johnson said.
One day in 1981, she heard in church that young immigrants needed a home, so she immediately signed up and within days had two teenage Hmong boys living with her brood of children, Ted Johnson recalled.
It wasn’t easy, he said, because the teens from Laos didn’t speak English.
She served as an advocate for their education and public assistance as they integrated into society. And she helped them to eventually bring their families to America.
She also served as an election judge at the polls in Golden Valley for about 15 years.
In addition to her husband, Vincent, and children Paula Carlson and Ted Johnson, survivors include daughters Barbara Nafstad, Karen and Bonnie; sons Patrick, Allen, Joseph, Thomas and Timothy; 18 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.