Polaris Snowmobiles Co-Founder David Johnson Tribute
David Eli Johnson, age 93, died on October 8, 2016 at home in Roseau, MN. Over
the last seven months, his health declined due to dementia. David was born in Roseau,
MN, on February 5, 1923, to Walfred and Signe (Sunsten) Johnson. Signe died shortly
after his birth. Before she died, she asked her midwife, Betty Hetteen, to take care of
David grew up on the Betty and Peter Hetteen farm in Malung Township, south of
Roseau. He became their youngest child, calling them mom and dad. David spent his
childhood years playing with their many grandchildren, among them Edgar (later
brother-in-law) and Allan Hetteen.
David attended school in Malung. He spoke only Swedish until the 2nd grade, when
his teacher said it was time he learned English. After graduating from Malung School,
he attended one year at Roseau High School, completing 9th grade. David said he rode
his Indian motorcycle to school every day to Roseau, even in winter when it was 20⁰
In 1944 David enlisted in the Navy, serving in China. During his tour in the Navy,
David sent money home to Edgar to help start Hetteen Hoist and Derrick. Upon his
discharge in July 1946, David joined Edgar back in Roseau. Allan became a partner in
1948. In 1954 the partnership became Polaris Industries. In January 1956 David
completed the first Polaris Sno-Cat. As Polaris grew, David most enjoyed spending time
on the shop floor, even during his time as Vice President of Manufacturing. He retired in
1987, yet continued weekly trips to the plant, encouraging employees and checking
progress on new products.
When he was 24, David met and fell in love with Eleanor Knochenmus Rud and
they were married on June 27, 1948. They shared love, devotion, and companionship
throughout 68 years of marriage.
David was an avid outdoor adventurer. With Eleanor and friends, he made long
canoe trips in the Canadian wilderness. The Northwest Angle on Lake of the Woods was
a favorite place, where he especially enjoyed winter. His transportation evolved from
snowshoes, skis, and canoes, to boats, airplanes, and snowmobiles. He reveled in being
outside hunting, fishing, exploring the woods and swamps, camping, and birdwatching.
David was inviting and inclusive, passing on his love of the natural world to his children
and grandchildren as they joined him on his adventures.
David’s life was shaped by his Christian faith, and he was known for his humility
and integrity. He was a quiet leader with a propensity for mischievous fun. He supported
the success of others, encouraging everyone to contribute. This inspired trust and loyalty
which carried his family, friends, church, and Polaris through tough times. David was an
anchor to many.
David was a founding member of the Roseau Assembly of God (now Roseau
Community Church) in 1954 and served on the board for 58 years. He taught Sunday
school for 25 years. David was a member of Gideons International, the American
Legion, Roseau Lions Club, and the NW MN Manufacturers Association. David was
inducted into the Roseau Community School Hall of Fame in 1992, the International
Snowmobile Racing Hall of Fame in 1999, and the Polaris Hall of Fame in 2004.
David was preceded in death by his Hetteen “fösterfamilj”: father Peter, mother
Betty; siblings Mats, Karolina Olson, Emma Johnson, Lydia Larson, Emanuel, John,
Edward, Ida, Oscar, Albert, and Elsie.
David was preceded in death by his Johnson biological family: father Walfred, mother
Signe; siblings Linnea Yost, Maurine Kannenberg, Irene Grahn, Philip, Ruby Hetteen,
and Hannah Hetteen; his stepmother-aunt Lillie (Signe’s sister); and his brother Ruben.
He is survived by his brother Robert (Mary).
David is survived by his wife Eleanor of Roseau; his children Mitchell (Dawn) of
Roseau, Rodney (Julie) of Two Harbors, Mary (Tom Klassen) of Minneapolis, and
Aaron (Amanda Norman) of Roseau; his grandchildren David (Rebecca), Anne (Alicia
Patten), and Laura (Andy Davey) Johnson, Hannah and Eben Johnson, Jesse and
Ainsley Schoff, Evan and Zoey Fish, and Rowan Johnson; and his great grandchildren
Devin and Maxwell Johnson.