Baeza chronicles Johnson family

NEW ULM – The granddaughter of longtime New Ulm civic leader Fred Johnson chronicled his life and much of the rest of the family before a full house Thursday in the New Ulm Public Library.

Joan Baeza, a rancher, author, writer, editor and teacher at Northland Pioneer College, continues to write from her home in the White Mountains of east central Arizona.

She spent her early years in New Ulm before moving to Renton, Wash. in 1944 where he father Norman went to work for Boeing Aircraft, building B-29 bombers.

Baeza chronicled the twists, turns, successes, failures, dedication and devotion of a family that came to America from Sweden in 1853.

Gustav Jonson, a blacksmith and carpenter, sold his rights to his inheritance to pay for his passage to America. That same year, Caroline Christine Hedden left her Swedish farm and sailed to America with her parents and four siblings.

In Chicago, a swindler stole all the Hedden family’s money. On top of that, Caroline’s parents, aunt and brother died in the cholera epidemic. An orphanage allowed Caroline to work for her board until she found domestic work for a St. Paul family.

Gustav met Caroline at a Traverse de Sioux Lutheran Church and later married her, despite being 20 years older than she was.

Their children included Fred Johnson, who came to New Ulm to edit the New Ulm Review at 19 and later helped raise money to build the New Ulm Public Library, found the Brown County Historical Society, and helped create Johnson (baseball) Field in New Ulm with his brothers.

John was elected to the state legislature in 1898, with Fred writing his speeches. Fred was appointed Minnesota state librarian and moved to St. Paul with his wife Emma.

The couple returned to New Ulm in 1902 to manage the Dacotah House that later was renamed the Dakota Hotel. The business prospered under Fred and Emma, allowing him to spend more time on his hobby, an autographed photo collection of famous people of the age, which is now on display at the New Ulm Public Library.

Decades later, Fred did so well in the stock market, not even the Great Depression affected him much. New Ulm reaped rewards too. Fred brought world class entertainment to the Turner Hall theater and began raising money for a library and museum, as he was in need of a place for his growing collection of historical and natural history items.

Emma died of asthma complications in 1945, which was a blow Fred never really recovered from, as he heavily depended on her for 50 years.

Fred died in 1948, following a fall that put him in the hospital.

His obituary read: “…even though he might have held positions of great importance in the state, he chose to remain in New Ulm and give the town the benefit of his amazing talent and his ability to carry through any project which he began.”

Baeza moved to Holbrook, Ariz. with her parents in 1949. She earned a BA in English literature from Stanford University, worked at newspapers for many years, retiring from the White Mountain Independent newspaper a decade ago. She continues to write books about the Arizona and New Mexico outdoors and history.

“I miss the newsroom. I’ve always loved the outdoors, working as a fire lookout for the U.S. Forest Service, riding horse trails and writing about them,” Baeza said.

Baeza will be in town this weekend, where she will serve as Grand?Marshal of the New Ulm German-American Parade.

Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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