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Lake Mills alum donates $100,000 to scholarships, but with a catch

By Rob Hillesland


Something has been weighing on Norm Johnson’s mind since the Vietnam War.

The Lake Mills High School 1966 graduate is doing something about that by challenging his former school’s alumni and community members to raise $50,000 for a proposed military veterans scholarship through the Lake Mills Scholarship Foundation.

When they do, he will triple it with an additional $100,000 donation.

Johnson said the scholarship donation and challenge was not a spur-of-the moment decision. 

“I was just finishing college when everyone was being drafted before they went to a lottery system to determine who would go to Vietnam,” he said. “I always felt guilty that I didn’t go into the service.”

To accommodate for this long-held remorse and to help his former school and community and the educational futures of local youth, Johnson is proposing the Vietnam Veterans Scholarship.

He said that funding the scholarship in the name of the veterans who did serve is his small way of saying thank you for the sacrifices the soldiers made.

Johnson also expressed appreciation for the other alumni and Lake Mills community members that are already responding to his challenge. He cited a goal to send letters to as many former Lake Mills High School students as possible, with assistance from the Scholarship Foundation Board.

“I’ve already written some letters to people that I know can maybe afford to help,” said Johnson. “It would be nice to even surpass the goal, but it is my understanding there is no time deadline and it will happen whenever it comes to pass.”

Johnson and his wife, Beverly, are currently living in Maples, Florida, but reside in Boulder, Colorado, during part of the year.

Johnson retired in 2012 as chairman and CEO of Clarcor, Inc. in Nashville, Tennessee, which is one of the largest industrial filtration global corporations in the world.

Upon his retirement, Johnson said he received a plaque that notes that the company started factories on every continent, except Antarctica.

Now, he is giving back to the high school in which he graduated and to the local community. The scholarship foundation was started in 2017 and has awarded scholarships to graduating Lake Mills seniors since 2018. A total of $29,000 in scholarships was awarded in 2020.

Johnson and his wife, Barbara, have two married children, Josh and Sarah, and five grandchildren.

Johnson noted that he was fortunate to have great teachers in Lake Mills as well as at the University of Iowa and Stanford University. He has an MBA Degree in Executive Marketing. He said he believes in helping every child succeed in life through educational opportunities.

Soon, Lake Mills alumni and community members can provide area students with even more educational opportunities to further their education. The Lake Mills Scholarship Fund Board ensures that donated funds are allocated fairly to its graduating students.

“We have a scholarship committee within the Board that evaluates each application based on a weighted scale for the criteria of character, leadership ability, academic performance and community/school involvement,” said Diane Clark, Scholarship Fund board member. “Each student is also required to write an essay regarding their goals and future plans.”

To help

Donations of any amount are accepted and are tax deductible. Donations may be sent to the Lake Mills Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 61, Lake Mills, Iowa 50450. As of Monday, more than  25 matching donations of various amounts had been received. There is no deadline for the matching program.