November 3rd, 2016

Polaris Snowmobiles Co-Founder David Johnson Tribute

David Eli Johnson, age 93, died on October 8, 2016 at home in Roseau, MN. David was a founding partner of Polaris, and a well-loved cornerstone of the company. Over the last seven months, his health haddeclined due to dementia.


Polaris Snowmobiles Co-Founder David Johnson Tribute

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.

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 below zero.

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.