George Johnson

The Fifth Pastor of Cordelia. By Larry Lass.

George Axel Johnson was born on Dec. 28, 1862 in Ödenshög, Östergötland, Sweden to Johan George and Johanna Lovisa Sköld. The Östergötland region is in southeast Sweden along the coast. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1881 at age 19. George married Wilhelmina L. Peterson in Rockford, Illinois, on Feb. 25, 1885. He attended Augustana College from 1889 to 1891 and Augustana Seminary of Rock Island, Illinois from 1891-1893. George was ordained at First Lutheran Church on June 18, 1893 in Moline, Illinois.

Rev. George Axel Johnson


Östergötland, Sweden

Pastor Johnson served in North Central Illinois at Wenona and Streator from 1893-1896. History reported he served at Farmersville and Rankin, Illinois from 1896-1900. Farmersville is located in Central Illinois and Rankin is about 100 miles to the northeast. Based on historic train schedules it would have been a three day commute between the churches. History did not record the frequency he held services at each church but his next location provided a clue. Pastor Johnson moved to a dual parish east of East Chicago in 1900. He served three Sundays a month at Chesterton, Indiana, and traveled 20 miles one Sunday a month to Hobart, Indiana until 1904. His next church was located at Crystal Falls, Michigan where he served from 1904-1909.

Cordelia and Zion Lutheran in Moscow, Idaho called Pastor Johnson on July 26, 1909. Cordelia had 12 members and 12 youth that year. Pastor’s salary from Cordelia was $80.00. Records of Peter Bohman showed the offering at Cordelia for 1909 was $109.70 and expense was $108.85 for a gain of $0.85. The pastoral report for 1910 did not indicate the number of members at Cordelia, but the offering was up by about $40.00 and expenses were up only $10.00 from 1909, so Cordelia had a gain of $29.42. In 1911, Pastor Johnson reported there were 12 members, two confirmed, and one born. Pastor’s salary from Cordelia fell to $53.55, because income was $77.92 in 1911. The financial record for 1915 showed Pastor Johnson was paid $50.70. The 1915 record reports 11 members and two births with income and expenses of $65.02.

Zion Lutheran had 322 members (175 adults and 147 children) when they called Pastor Johnson and offered him $627.50 per year for salary. The offerings and gifts for 1909 were $3,454.14. The 1909 financial report indicated the organist was paid $50.00 per year and there a $4.76 surplus. The 1909 pastoral report recorded four births and five in the confirmation class. Pastor Johnson officiated at Peter Carlson's funeral. Peter was the pastor who started both Cordelia and Zion. Pastor Johnson’s salary increased to $900.00 in 1910. The pastoral report for 1910 recorded 15 born and 11 in Pastor Johnson's confirmation class. There were 226 adult members and 183 youth. The annual offerings and gifts at Zion were $2,118.79. Members sent $142.17 to missions and the organist’s pay increased to $75.00.

In 1911, Pastor Johnson reported 230 adult member and 180 youth in his annual report. Expenses recorded in 1911 included a new piano costing $220.00, piano stool for $11.15, 100 foot water hose for basement for $10.60 and $15.20 for ice cream for a social.

Rev. Johnson's Christmas card given to all members of Zion Lutheran in Moscow, Idaho. Thank you to Victoria Olsen who saved one.

Membership in Zion grew to 257 adults, but youth decreased to 177 in 1912. An entry in the finical records for 1912 indicated Zion Church was insured by the Lutheran Mutual Fire Insurance Association and the premium was $14.00 and the insurance for Pastor’s house was $9.00. Members of Zion added insulation to the church. The cost of the materials was $157.20. The piano required tuning and the cost was $4.00. Pastor Johnson’s salary was still $900. The church held a “Measuring Social” on March 28th, an ice cream social on July 25th, and a pie social on October 25th. Expenses for each social were about $20.

Zion Lutheran’s growth slowed in 1913 and 1914. There were 261 adults and 139 children in 1914. In 1913 the Willing Workers women’s group started to report finances in the church record. The purpose of the group was to “propagate church work in English language, but also to be concerned about any phases of the local program that needed attention.” The Willing Workers helped with community service projects for the needy and mission projects. The Willing Workers would become the Lutheran Women’s Guild. In 1915, during Johnson’s pastorate, the Women’s Missionary Society was formed.

Rev. George Johnson


Pastor Johnson resigned on February 20, 1917. He moved to Granville, Utica, Illinois. He served this dual parish from 1917 to 1928. Pastor Johnson’s last church was in Vinton, Iowa where he served from 1928-1932. He retired in 1932 and moved to Rock Island, Illinois. During his retirement he occupied his time reading, gardening, and fishing. He also made several hooked rugs.

In February 1932, his wife of 48 years passed away. Pastor Johnson died in the Moline Hospital in Illinois on January 1, 1944. At the time of his death, they had seven children born in Chesterton, Indiana (Alma, David, Ruth, George, and Enoch). A son and daughter died in infancy. He had been living with his daughter Alma in Rock Island, Illinois. In 1971, his son, Enoch Anselm, was living in Talorsville, Illinois.

Author’s note: Special thanks goes to Victoria Olsen for lending me the Secretarial Records of Zion Lutheran Church from 1909 to 1922. Thanks must go to Enoch Anselm and Elmer Vedell for their written summary of George Johnson's achievements. Additional thanks goes to the archivist at ELCA and Augustana College for additional information and photographs.