by SARAH SQUIRES
Well-known Winona musician Robert “Bob” Johnson used to give away instruments, encouraging young people with an interest in music and poetry to explore the art he cherished, igniting a spark in many. When he was tragically killed in a drive-by shooting in 2016, friends and family grappled with the loss, and the music community where Johnson was known to play in the bluegrass band Beet Root Stew also felt his absence.
But Bob’s memory and passion for sharing his art lives on today through a music fund organized by his family that provides instruments for middle schoolers in Winona. The “Bob Johnson Instrument Rental Fund” is administered by the Foundation for Winona Area Public Schools, and this year, Bob’s mother, Joan, thought of a new way to raise money to help local kids stir the passion that so drove her son.
A garden tour will be held on July 11 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Johnson home, 458 Sunset Drive, Winona. The tour will be free, but donations will be accepted and will go toward the instrument fund. The Johnsons encourage attendees to wear a mask (and will provide them if needed) and use social-distancing guidelines while exploring the garden, which should be full of color with bee balm, hostas, turtleheads, hydrangeas, roses, day lilies, and cornflowers in bloom. Joan, inspired by her daughter’s gardening efforts, started her garden about 15 years ago, and is excited to share her flowers with the public while raising money for local kids.
Those who cannot attend the tour but would like to donate to the instrument fund may send a check to Shelley Milek, Foundation for WAPS, 1570 Homer Road, Winona, Minn., 55987, and write “Bob Johnson Instrument Rental Fund” in the memo.
“He loves music,” Joan said of Bob, explaining that he often wrote about how much the art form meant to him. “He just said music soothes the soul, especially if you have conflicts in your life.” Bob, who was a Winona State University graduate, worked in Alaska for decades as a geochemist explorer, and would often visit Winona, the place he called home. On those visits, he’d sit on the back porch and soak in the flowers, the fireflies and hummingbirds, and write music. “It was a tranquil place for him,” explained Joan.