Skip to Content

Well played, Mr. Johnson

Originally published on Thursday, December 5 in the Pioneer Press
Republished with permission

Lloyd Johnson was expecting a party for his 100th birthday.

What he got was a dream-come-true surprise that left him gasping in disbelief -- a chance to play the fiddle with violin virtuoso Peter Ostroushko.

"My God!" choked Johnson, as Ostroushko came forward and shook his hand.

Lloyd and PeterThe standing-room-only crowd at Stonecrest, a Presbyterian Homes community in Woodbury, erupted in cheers, and the two launched into a rousing set of fiddle classics.

Afterward, Johnson was all smiles.

"I have never been so honored in all my life," he beamed as he sat next to Ostroushko. "Nothing I have done in these 100 years has entitled me to live this long. It is a gift from God. I consider it a miracle."

The idea for the celebration came last summer, when Stonecrest recreation director Renee Vaughan asked Johnson a question: Did he have any lifelong dreams that were unfulfilled?

Johnson, who has been a semiprofessional violin and trumpet player all his adult life, knew what his dream was.

In 2005, he had met Ostroushko at a concert. One of Minnesota's most well-known musicians, Ostroushko has recorded or toured with such musicians as Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson and Chet Atkins.

Johnson kept a photo of Ostroushko on the wall in his apartment. So when asked, he immediately replied that his dream was to play with Ostroushko.

Vaughan was touched and determined to make it happen.

"Lloyd is one of the kindest people you will ever meet," she said. "Somehow the world gives back to those who give."

Vaughan called Red House Records, which records Ostroushko, and the musician immediately agreed.

"Why wouldn't I?" he said, as he arrived at the party Wednesday. "It's just an homage from one fiddler to another. If I could be doing that well when I am 100, God bless America."

Johnson walked into the Stonecrest party room expecting a celebration. He was stunned to see the place packed and the stage area flanked by TV cameras and microphones on swinging booms.

As he sat in silence, trying to figure out what the fuss was about, Ostroushko emerged.

After a breathless introduction, the two played a set that included "San Antonio Rose" and the Swedish song "Helsa Dem Darhemma."

During the last song, "I Saw the Light," the crowd clapped along as Johnson's wife, 93-year-old Maxine, played piano and sang.

Afterward, Johnson and Ostroushko talked music like old friends.

Johnson said he still practices the fiddle. "They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but I think I am improving," he said.

"The fiddle is unforgiving," nodded Ostroushko. "You neglect it, and it will neglect you."

Johnson's longevity is proving a happy dilemma for his son, Joey Johnson. He said he organized a party for his dad's 80th birthday, hiring a professional singer for the occasion. He had no idea if his father would reach 100 -- an occasion for another party.

"I am running out of ideas," he laughed.

The newly minted centenarian answered questions from reporters, including the inevitable, "How do you feel?"

"I had trouble sleeping last night," he said. "It's a traumatic experience when you know you are going to be 100 years old in a few hours."

He reported the number of days he's been alive -- 36,525.

"I can't believe it. Pinch me," said Johnson, sitting next to Ostroushko. "He's famous, and I'm nobody."

But Ostroushko shook his head. "Today," he said, "you are everybody."

Bob Shaw is a general assignment reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper. He was Nominated for Pulitzer Prize in 1989 and 2011 and editor/manager of Pulitzer-Prize-winning story in 1990. Shaw was a Knight fellow at Stanford University, 1994-95. Shaw can be reached at 651-228-5433. Follow him at

Back to top