First Lady Tonette Walker

Wisconsin’s first lady surprises 'Dr. Bob'

By:Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Monday, March 26, 2012

First lady of the state Tonette Walker presented a Wisconsin Heroes award to well-known River Falls doctor Bob Johnson at 2:30 p.m. Friday, March 23, as his wife, Mary Conroy-Johnson, and a crowd of his co-workers from the River Falls Medical Clinic and the adjoining hospital, looked on with smiles and hearty applause.

Asked if he had been surprised by the award, Johnson said with a grin, “Oh yes.”

The award presentation remained top secret until just a while before Walker arrived at the clinic in River Falls.

Johnson’s co-worker, Kurt Helmrick, who works at the Ellsworth branch of the clinic, nominated him for the award because of his volunteer service to the community. Johnson founded the Free Clinic of Pierce and St. Croix counties in April, 2007; he directs and works at the Free Clinic.

“Dr. Bob” has also served as medical director for Camp Needlepoint, an American Diabetes Association camp in Hudson. He and wife Mary also have a long history of doing international mission work to provide eyeglasses and other optical-health services to people in disadvantaged areas of the world

Walker said Johnson is the 3rd recipient of a Wisconsin Heroes award, given monthly since January to recognize outstanding Wisconsin residents for their willingness, compassion and commitment to the betterment of the state.

She said, “We want to make it (award) about the person.”

The state's first lady added that word is beginning to get around about the new program; she welcomes more nominations for people deserving of the Wisconsin Heroes award. Learn more about the program at

Mary, also active with the Free Clinic, said it was nice touch to recognize the Wisconsinites helping their communities.

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