Dave Johnson uses his connections to help Janesville

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Sunday, March 25, 2012
— Whenever Ron Ochs has needed community service help, he's found it with Dave Johnson.

Johnson, retired general manager of The Gazette, has an extensive history of serving the community.

In addition to providing decades of support for downtown Janesville and the city's various incarnations of chambers of commerce, Johnson has had a soft spot for the local United Way, which Ochs now heads.

"Dave's never been one to take a backseat," Ochs said. "He's willing to take a risk, but more than anything, Dave's a consensus builder.

"And he's so well connected. When there's something we don't know or who to ask, he knows who to turn to."

In one form or another, Johnson has served the United Way of North Rock County for 27 years, including nine years on its board of directors, one as chairman and two as head of its annual fundraising campaign.

"I was told by someone when I was young to find mentors," said Johnson, who recently retired after nearly 43 years with The Gazette. "One of the them was (former Publisher) Jim Burgess of the Wisconsin State Journal, who instilled in me that newspapers must fill a philanthropic role.

"The great thing about our company," Johnson said of Bliss Communications, "is that it not only encourages community service, it also makes the time available for us to get involved."

What started as advice from a mentor turned into a longstanding commitment.

"Particularly with United Way, which is 99.9 percent local, you see the outcomes," Johnson said. "It really does become more than just satisfying some corporate responsibility.

"It gives you a real self satisfaction."

Johnson is on hiatus from United Way volunteerism while he helps in other areas. He's been working with the Rock Aqua Jays on their annual summertime celebration, and this year he will chair the "Rock Around The Block" event in downtown Janesville.

He rejoined the Janesville Morning Rotary after a two-year break spent mentoring a student at his elementary school alma mater.

He's also served the YMCA, Red Cross, UW-Rock County Foundation and Janesville Area Crime Stoppers, and you'd be hard-pressed to name a fundraising golf event that Johnson hasn't played in at least once. He's even joined the formation committee for a local chapter of the First Tee, a global program designed to build character in youth through the game of golf.

"His influence in the community is immense," said Karl Dommershausen, a local businessman and school board member. "You know that when Dave's involved with something, it will get done, and it will get done well."

Dommershausen agreed with Ochs that one of Johnson's strongest talents is his ability to build consensus, usually by asking the right questions.

"Dave's never been one to flat out disagree," Dommershausen said. "Instead, he'll respond to questions with his own questions that really challenge people to think deeper."

Last updated: 7:53 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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