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Dignitaries, family, community remember Park Ranger Johanson
POULSBO — At one point or another, everyone had a smile on during State Park Ranger Ed Johanson's memorial service Friday. Family members and colleagues talked of Johanson's whimsical side, as well as his passion for his work at Kitsap area state parks.
Johanson, 44, was killed Feb. 24 while driving home to Seabeck, when another vehicle swerved from the opposite lane and struck his private vehicle head-on.
The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office investigated the crash. The driver of the other car was arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide. Drugs or alcohol are suspected to be involved, according to the sheriff's office.
The service was held at Gateway Fellowship, 18901 8th Ave. NE in Poulsbo March 2, opening with violin music by Park Ranger Anastasia Czebotar. Gov. Chris Gregoire, County Commissioner Rob Gelder, Poulsbo Mayor Becky Erickson and Parks Director Don Hoch joined more than 250 people at the service.
Various people spoke about Johanson and his many roles in this life — Brother Ed, Ranger Ed, Coach Ed, Uncle Eddie, Father Ed, Best Friend Ed. A slideshow of his life was accompanied by Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" and the Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin."
Johanson worked as a ranger for 20 years, serving at Kitsap Memorial State Park northwest of Poulsbo until his recent assignment to Kanaskat Palmer State Park in the Green River Gorge area.
Hoch said simply, “We will miss Ed.”
“Ed wanted people to love the parks the way he did, and get as much out of their park experience as possible. That’s passion for you,” Hoch said.
Johanson was born Oct. 20, 1967 in Bremerton to Keith and Edna Johanson. His older brother Ray recounted Johanson’s booming voice, infectious smile and great sense of humor. Johanson loved The Monkees — “I picture him and Davy Jones having a jam session of 'Daydream Believer' right now,” Ray said — Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, but also John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt and John Wayne movies.
“Ed’s boys remind me of me and Eddie,” Ray said. “These boys are Ed’s legacy, and he raised them well.”
Johanson's son, Brandon, speaking with his brother Nicholas at his side, said it was appropriate for their father's ashes to be placed in one of his "beloved ranger cookie jars" as his final resting place.
“He’s provided us a foundation for which we will build our lives,” Brandon said. “Coach Dad was a positive role model in [our] life.”
Brandon spoke of having the honor to know his father recently as a best friend. Johanson had high standards for his boys in education, sports, even board games, but all with a kind hand. Johanson was creating a “Ranger Room” in his home, a collection of mementos and honors from his career, which began as a park aide at Scenic Beach State Park.
“I found three watches among his possessions, all of which did not tick. The frogs did not croak, the birds did not chirp. It was if Mother Nature herself was taking a moment of silence to reflect on this tremendous loss,” he said.
Besides his more than 20 years in the park service, Johanson had been a baseball and soccer coach for many years. His team, the Rangers, wore their uniforms to the service, and his assistant coach, Larry Holloway, spoke of Johanson’s overwhelming cheer and good sportsmanship.
Many remembered his talent as an artist. Johanson received an associate’s degree in studio art from Olympic College and a bachelor’s in studio art from Western Washington University, in addition to attending Law Enforcement Academy at Skagit Valley College. He had been drawing cartoons of family, neighbors, fellow park rangers and his soccer team for years, and recently rekindled his business aspirations into Creations INK, according to his obituary. His illustrations can be viewed on his website, www.creationsink.com.
Johanson’s fiance, Leigh Kessell, sent a video from New Zealand. They were to be married this summer, and she had recently returned to New Zealand for a holiday. Kessell said Johanson was a romantic and a “big kid” at heart. She said he called every morning to say “I love you” and “Have a great day.”
“He was my knight in shining armor,” she said.
“I think we can say Ed can be proud of the life that he has lived,” said Kent Fire Chaplain Pat Ellis, who opened the memorial and read the obituary.
Gov. Gregoire said to the family what a “great man” Johanson was, and presented the state flag to them.
“My heart goes out to you [speaking to Hoch] and to the men and women of the Washington State Park,” she said, her voice hoarse from speaking about the area’s recent tragedies. “Its hard to lose one of our own.
“To the community here, on behalf of 6.7 million people, we stand with you. We are sorry for what you’ve had to put up with over the last few weeks.”
Ellis said, referencing the Bremerton murders, a school shooting, and State Trooper Tony Radulescu’s murder, “As a community that’s been deeply impacted by these events over the last few short weeks, truly as a community we are reeling. When is enough, enough? Today as community, we should stand together in a sign of solidarity against the … tragedy happening around us.”
Johanson was married to Deanna Evans from 1990 to 2011. He is survived by his sons, parents, brother, six nieces and four nephews; uncles, Richard Anderson (Anita), Dennis Johanson (Shirley), Ron Johanson; aunt Barbara Wilson (Mike); and several cousins, friends and acquaintances.