A legacy of giving back
Eagle Grove benefits from Johnson’s generosity
EAGLE GROVE — James Johnson may not be a familiar name to everyone in Eagle Grove.
“He never married,” Dick Cahalan said. “He had very little family left. If you asked about his friends, he didn’t have many. A lot of his friends were gone, and are gone.”
But through a trust fund left by Johnson, the community continues to benefit from the man’s kindness.
Johnson was a U.S. Navy veteran. He was also a longtime electrical engineer.
Dick Cahalan and Kevin Cahalan were Johnson’s neighbors for 10 years. They helped take care of whatever he needed up to his final days.
“That’s what neighbors do,” said Dick Cahalan, who has been in Eagle Grove since 1967.
Johnson died in April of 2017. He was 88.
Before he died, he instructed the Cahalans to use his wealth to help others.
“When it came time to do his will, he really wanted to make sure the elderly, children, and disadvantaged people were taken care of,” Kevin Cahalan said.
Since 2017, charitable donations by the James R. Johnson Foundation have helped Eagle Grove Boy Scout Troop 1059, Eagle Grove Community Schools, Iowa Specialty Hospital, and the Eagle Grove Fire Department, among other organizations.
About $220,000 was given to the Wright County Fair Board for a new stage.
“The old stage got blown over a couple years ago during a big storm,” Kevin Cahalan said. “That was our first big contribution.”
A total of $300,000 has been given so far.
According to Dick Cahalan, Johnson was very interested in the field of science. As a result, while he was still living, he funded a scholarship for Eagle Grove High School students who pursued careers in science and engineering.
Johnson also helped fund a digital clock used in track and field.
Rick Dawson leads the Eagle Grove Boy Scout Troop 1059. He’s been involved with Boy Scouts for 18 years. Dawson is grateful for what Johnson has provided for the scouts.
“It’s a huge opportunity for the scouts,” Dawson said. “We used some of the money to go camp for railroad merit badge — equipment, trailer.”
Dawson said there are 20 scouts in his troop and a total of 33 scouts in the Cub Scouts program.
“He gets those boys out and moving,” Dick Cahalan said.
“We do a lot of recycling,” Dawson said. “There’s a sense of pride in helping them and watching them grow up. We have four scouts working on an Eagle Scout project — just to see them go through the whole program. Some of their Eagle Scout projects will help out the community.”
One of those projects is recycling bins for retired American flags.
“We have a trailer here in town for a drop-off site, a recycled area,” Dawson said. “We empty the trailer and sort them.”
Tom Peterson, the Eagle Grove fire chief, has appreciated Johnson’s kindness.
“It helps us with equipment,” Peterson said. “We are on a limited budget, so any contribution helps a lot.”
Eagle’s Wings Day Care has been yet another recipient of Johnson’s funds.
Jennifer Schnell, the assistant director, said the money has been used for building improvements, new toys, and cots.
“It’s made an overall impact on the center,” Schnell said. “The kids have enjoyed having new toys in their rooms.”
A new washer and dryer were also made possible by the funds.
“The day care is essential for the community,” Dick Cahalan said.
“The ability to take care of and help grow early childhood education,” Schnell said. “It’s a safe place for parents to drop their kids off. We plan, we use curriculum. The kids learn new things every day. The women that work here put their heart into it.”
For the Cahalans, it’s been an honor to help worthwhile projects and organizations in memory of Johnson.
“It’s gratifying to be able to help,” Dick Cahalan said.
Kevin Cahalan added, “We have always been in a position where we volunteered our time, but never where we can volunteer money for people who deserve it.”