UW-Stout: Professor to receive award from city’s Urban Forestry Board

A professor at University of Wisconsin-Stout who has helped students with a lab-based, community project is being honored as Citizen of the Year by the Menomonie Urban Forestry Board.

Jerome “Jerry” Johnson will be recognized during an event at 10 a.m. Friday, April 30, at Our House Senior Living, 820 17th Ave. E. April 30 is Arbor Day.

He has worked over the years with the board and its projects. Most recently, he coordinated a UW-Stout effort that repurposes wood from city ash trees, which were removed because of the emerald ash borer. The city received a $9,000 Urban Forestry Grant from the state Department of Natural Resources.

To prevent the wood from going to waste, the Urban Forestry Board partnered with UW-Stout and Johnson. Since 2017, students have made 11 benches from the milled ash. Four more are being built.

The benches, all with different designs, are at:

  • Cedarama, Wakanda and Wilson parks, seven total
  • Disc golf course on Brickyard Road
  • Shirley Doane Senior Center on Sixth Street E.
  • Menomonie Public Library bus stop
  • Additional bench to be placed at disc golf course at Wakanda or Brickyard Road.

“Through this project we have tried to encourage students to become involved in and give back to in their community. They have been very enthusiastic about designing and building the benches and leaving them with the city,” Johnson said.

Last year, students also sanded and reconditioned the benches that were in use.

The project has gone beyond the hands-on experience that engineering, design and other students have gained in the lab.

“Many have started similar projects in their own hometown. One student is making new, little free library houses for his hometown. While learning about joinery, fastening, processing and finishing is important, the bigger benefit seems to come from the satisfaction and motivation that the students get from their involvement in a citywide, ongoing project,” Johnson said.

In UW-Stout’s wood lab, Johnson oversees senior-level students in the Research and Development course and sophomores in the Design for Industry course. Students have experimented with wood-bending techniques in making the benches and have experimented with Shou sugi ban, a Japanese finishing method of burning and sealing the wood.

Johnson, in the engineering and technology department, has taught at UW-Stout since 1985 and is retiring after the spring semester. He has a doctorate in vocational education from the University of Minnesota.

Johnson and Nancy Schofield, a former UW-Stout professor who is a member of the Urban Forestry Board, presented on the project in 2018 at the Urban Forestry Congress in Vancouver, B.C.

She also has worked with the students.

“On behalf of the Urban Forestry Board, it has been a pleasure to design, observe and work with Jerry Johnson and his students on this project. Under Dr. Johnson’s leadership it has become an excellent, cooperative endeavor involving many students, board members, city urban forestry staff and city residents — including disc golf players,” Schofield said.

The Urban Forestry Board has marked Arbor Day since 1995. A tree will be planted as part of the event.