Tag Archives: Julie Johnson

The Johnsons

April 27, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Distant from the city lights and engulfed by nature, one might feel overwhelmed by the unidentified bustle in the bushes, the sticky humidity, and the irritating mosquitoes. For the Johnson family, it means they’re all together, and it’s their home away from home.

Ransom and Julie Johnson have taken countless camping trips with their kids.

The couple upgraded their tent size as they welcomed their children over the years. The Johnson clan—which includes Grace, 9; Ella, 11; Nate, 19; and Merci, 27—camps together several times each summer.

Ransom and Julie agree that the family time spent outdoors together gives their curious children a much-needed chance to disconnect and explore.

“It’s good to see them get out and open up their minds. Instead of saying, ‘Oh entertain me,’ it’s ‘What am I going to find to do?’ And they always find something,” Ransom says.

“They might be knee-deep in mud and their clothes are all wet, but it doesn’t matter,” Julie adds.

The family spent several days last year on a camping trip to Yankton, South Dakota. More often, however, the family spends long summer weekends at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo, Nebraska. Although it is only a 30-minute drive, the couple says it is the perfect distance from home.

“One thing that always amazes the kids is how much they can see once they get out of the lights of town. How much more brilliant the stars are,” Ransom says.

When everyone feels cooped up in the house, and the kids are bickering with one another, the short escape does a lot of good for their family.

“You get them out to the campsite for two-three days and they don’t have anything to fight about anymore,” Ransom says. “They have to rely on each other. They get along with each other.”

Ransom has been camping for as long as he can remember.

He introduced Julie to the leisure activity when they were dating. While they started out with a two-person tent, they’ve accumulated quite the camping haul.

Over the years, they’ve built up a supply of two 10-person tents, a couple of smaller tents, a canoe, and many pieces of cooking equipment. Their supplies range from coffee pots, to coolers, to Dutch ovens.

Most of the time, their camping meals consist of burgers, sandwiches, or hot dogs. Other times the family eats fruit, or chips and other junk food.

“It kind of just depends on how much planning and preparation is involved,” Julie says. “Sometimes we just grab what’s in the cupboard and go.”

The spontaneity, Julie says, is what makes the trips so memorable.

“The kids can be sitting, reading, and then they see something,” Ransom adds. “And all of the sudden they’re off to investigate whatever leaf blew by, or whatever it may be.”

Much of the children’s love for nature can be attributed to their respective involvement in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The couple started their son young by not only signing him up for Cub Scouts while he was in the first grade, but serving as the group leaders for a few years. Their son, now 19, participated in Boy Scouts, working his way through the ranks to earn the title of Eagle Scout.

The two younger girls, ages 9 and 11, have been involved with Girl Scouts from a young age. Julie helps out as a co-leader with both troupes.

“It’s important,” Ransom says. “It lets kids explore so many different things … in scouting you can touch on everything from cooking and sewing to rock climbing, robotics, and 50-mile hikes.”

Ransom himself was a Boy Scout. From the parents’ perspective, their kids’ involvement in the programs has been a crucial part of their growing up.

“It teaches them responsibility to the community and to the family,” Ransom says.

The Boy Scouts troop the Johnsons’ son attended camped 11 times per year—sometimes more. Beginning in the fifth grade, they took an annual week-long camping trip to Camp Geiger near St. Joseph, Missouri. There, the boys would stay in tents and earn merit badges.

The Girl Scouts also have the opportunity for an annual overnight wilderness experience where they stay overnight, hike, shoot archery, and take in the nature.

“It’s really about slowing down,” Julie says. “When we’re hustling and we’re talking, we miss seeing the deer or the wild turkey. I try and encourage the girls to just be observers of nature.”

It is plain to see where the love for outdoors stems from in the Johnson family. All the family members appreciate the little moments in the camping, hiking, and memories made on their highly anticipated summer adventures.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

l-r: Ella, 11, and Grace, 9, spend quality time in their family tent.

Gridiron Gals

March 22, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

An approaching stampede can be seen, heard, and felt. The blur of feet and thunderous vibration of anapproaching herd almost reaches out to touch you on any given Saturday as the Nebraska Stampede practices in preparation for a new season.

But the women of the Stampede wouldn’t call it a touch. They’d call it a hit—and a bone-crushing one at that.

“Get out there and get aggressive, okay?” yells a linebacker whose ponytail peeks out from her helmet. “This isn’t dance class,” she adds, as the team huddles up for quarterback Jenny “Flip” Filipowicz to call the next play.

On the sideline stands Dave Dawson, the coach of Omaha’s team in the Women’s Football Alliance. He’s been with the Stampede for four years, and it’s his first as head coach, a baton he took from team co-owner Rex Johnson.

“I think people would be surprised at the level of talent on this team and how hard they play,” he says as a four-player pile-up comes crashing down just inches from his feet. “It’s exciting for me to help someone who’s passionate about the game and otherwise might not get the opportunity to play at a competitive level.”

Co-owner Julie Johnson says they are known among other teams as being great sports—which she takes pride in—but talent and competitive drive is what wins games for the squad that produced five All-Americans last season, the second-most in the division.

Julie and her husband, Rex, started the team in 2009 in order to give their football-playing daughters an outlet. She says the Stampede is a good mix of experience levels. Some players have Pee Wees experience while others are picking up the pigskin for the first time.

Depth charts can be rather one-dimensional, and versatility is a prized asset.

“We call this ironman football…ironwoman football,” says Julie, pointing to how most of the roster plays both sides.

Julie herself played for the Nebraska Stampede in its first year.

“It was something I wanted but also felt like I needed to do it so I knew firsthand what we were asking them to do,” she says.

Rounding out the family affair, daughters Bethany and Tina Johnson also play. But even non-Johnsons are a part of the Stampede family.

“They are a unified team, and they have become a very close family,” says Julie.

Rachal Pender says her involvement in the Stampede family has been an essential part of her life.

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“I genuinely believe the Stampede saved my life,” says Pender, acknowledging past difficulties with alcohol abuse. “This is the first thing in my life that was more important to me than that.”

Pender had a very insular upbringing. Although she always loved football, joining the Stampede was her first foray into playing sports.

“My parents didn’t allow me to play any organized sports,” she said. “I grew up in a very religious home; never wore pants or cut my hair until I was 20. I’ve always been [like this inside]—crazy, aggressive, loud. I’ve never had a place that I fit in quite like I do here because my aggressiveness is celebrated and loved.”

With the Stampede she not only gets to play football, she also gets to be herself.

“I don’t mean to brag,” she adds, “but I am the lungs of the Stampede. I yell the entire game whether I’m playing or not.”

Pender has played in every Stampede game since the team’s inception, but her streak will end when the clock runs out on the team’s first game in April. And it will end in a way that could never be reported during an NFL pregame summary.

She is pregnant.

Pender adds she’s not the only player for whom the Stampede was life-changing.

“Julie and Rex accept us all as we are,” she says. “They came here and created this huge thing that so many people could come be a part of. They just embrace everyone.”

Bethany Johnson, a hard-hitting vet on the Stampede team and Julie and Rex’s daughter, has been playing football since age 9.

“Too much in society, women are dictated by their bodies,” she says. “In this league it doesn’t matter because we need every body shape. [Playing] gives you lots of confidence. Not just for me, but for so many of us.”

Bethany sports long, manicured nails—a sight that seems to contradict her tough gridiron persona.

“That’s how I know I’m doing my job,” she says. “If my nails aren’t broken then I did my job: I hit them before they hit me.”

Though she has nothing against them, she clarified that the Stampede is not the Lingerie Football League — a common confusion.

“LFL gets a lot of attention, so it’s nice that we’re getting some momentum,” she says. “Kudos to them, but we like to know that girls can play this sport without having to take their clothes off.”

As for advice for any aspiring Stampeders?

“Come out and give it a shot,” says Bethany. “The girls here have awesome, positive attitudes. They’ll make you feel at home on day one.”