MINNEAPOLIS, MN (August 7, 2017) – Witnesses say that after an explosion rocked the Upper Campus of Minnehaha Academy last Wednesday, the school’s 82-year-old janitor, John Carlson, stayed inside to make sure others escaped to safety when the building collapsed and killed him.
On Sunday night, an overflow crowd of roughly one thousand people at the school’s Lower Campus testified to the love they had for the man who called Minnehaha “my home.” The school’s chapel was not big enough to hold the crowd, so hundreds of people had to be seated in the gymnasium where they watched the service via closed-circuit TV, as well as others who were in the hallway, said Mark Stromberg, Northwest Conference superintendent.
Carlson grew up attending Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis and served there in multiple capacities as an adult. That included mentoring at least a dozen confirmands.
He later joined Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton.
John’s life at Minnehaha Academy began when, as a three-year-old in 1938, he sat with his parents during Bethlehem Covenant Church’s Sunday services, which met at the school. In 1941 he began attending Sunday School, and his classroom was later the room used to publish the “Quiver” school paper. He attended high school there from 1949 to 1953.
“Now as one of the school’s janitors, I clean these areas where I learned about God as a young child and I find it nostalgic,” Carlson wrote in his memoirs, some of which were published as part of a family tribute. “I confess to enjoy being the oldest staff person and recalling where ‘everything used to be.’ The teachers and staff are really great wonderful Christian people and made me feel very comfortable with them. I’m careful to work hard and do my job to the fullest in the time provided.”
Carlson wasn’t scheduled to be in the building at the time the blast occurred. He was supposed to start at 2 p.m. but went in around 10 a.m. because he loved being there and wanted to make sure he was able to finish the job.
His love for the students at the school was obvious every day, students and friends said. He used to hand out Dilly Bars to the students as he encouraged them in their studies.
Carlson also wanted to make sure other youth had the opportunity to attend the school. In 2003, he decided to run in the school’s 2003 Homecoming 5K Redhawk Race. He had never run before, but he wanted to raise money for the school’s scholarship fund, which was established in memory of a friend he had met in the seventh grade.
His family was concerned about him suddenly taking up running, but Carlson told them that running was just going a little bit faster than walking. He ran the race for the next ten years.
It wasn’t just young people Carlson was committed to serving. After retiring from years as a city bus driver, he decided to take up voice lessons. As he gained confidence, he would sing at Colonial Acres, the skilled nursing facility at Covenant Village of Golden Valley once a month.
In his memoirs, Carlson wrote, “My belief, my ‘code’ that I was to follow was inherent within my character. Be dependable. Be on time. Be where you should be. Do what you should be doing – people depend on you.”
It was a code he lived by until the very end.