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Giving Spirit: Family Hopes Rhinelander Man’s Generosity Inspires Others to Give


Robert “Bob” Johnson was born and raised in Rhinelander.

A 1964 graduate of Rhinelander High School who went onto UW-Madison before being drafted by the Army in ’68.

After his return, he worked in the Fox Valley before retiring in 2006.

Bob built eventually built a house in the Rhinelander Area where friends and family say he welcomed everyone.

He died in January at the age of 75 of Parkinson’s. His family describes him as a quiet, humorous man with a generous and giving spirit.

“It’s that generosity, that spirit that Bob gave as an example and has instill in each one of us,” said Randy Johnson, Bob’s nephew.

That giving spirit is continuing after his death.

Bob left more than $500,000 to be split among the YMCA of the Northwoods, the Salvation Army, United Way, Rhinelander High School Scholarships, The Boys and Girls Club of the Northwoods, and NATH-Fredrick Place.

Representatives from each organization gathered at CT’s Deli Tuesday to accept the donations and many to learn about Bob for the first time.

Credit Katie Thoresen/WXPR
Northwoods United Way Executive Director Nancy Sattler thanks Bob Johnson's family for his contributions.

“He sounded like a very amazing, kind person. Unfortunate that we all did not get the opportunity to meet him and spend time with him,” said Nancy Sattler with United Way.

Steve Johnson, Randy’s brother, said it wasn’t surprising that people outside his family and close friends didn’t know of his generosity.  

“He didn’t expect anything in return, in fact, he had asked for the donations to be somewhat silent and to go out without any fanfare,” said Steve. “That was one wish, the only wish, that we weren’t going to honor.”

The donations will help many of the organizations make progress on major projects.

Ryan Zietlow with the YMCA of the Northwoods says this gift helps bring them closer to making their vision a reality.

“In memory of Bob’s love gathering families, a large pavilion that will be constructed on the east side of the YMCA as part of our building for the future capital campaign, will be designated the ‘Bob Johnson Gathering Place’ bringing those in our community together and building memories,” said Zietlow.

Bob’s family didn’t just want to make the donations public so that people could know the kind of man Bob was. Their hope is that his generosity will inspire others to give, like it has for his own family.

“We’re hoping that when word gets out that Bob was able to donate more than $500,000 to local area charities that maybe it spurs the idea in the community for some additional opportunity. People may not have the opportunity to do what he was able to do, but every little bit helps,” said Ryan.

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