The magic that goes into building a 43-year marriage is not something I could sum up in just a few short words. But it is something you start to feel almost immediately after walking into the Johnson home. The bustle of a family spending quality time together is the best sound in the world, especially when it’s people gearing up to spend a day on the water.
Don and Willa Johnson of Springfield, Mo., have created a home filled with love, compassion and a passion for boating and it’s something they have passed down through the generations. The boat of their dreams is a G3 Sun Catcher and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Don and Willa raised two beautiful daughters, Jill and Kesa, in the southeast corner of Missouri while Don worked in the insurance industry for over 35 years. The family always spent time together on the water. When Jill and Kesa were little, the Johnson family used to trailer their boat to Table Rock Lake every weekend. “We would put our boat in at the ramp and just wish that we could own a place right on the lake,” recalls Willa.
In 1997, their dream became a reality with the purchase of a home in Kimberling, Mo., a community of 2,400 people that sits right on Table Rock Lake. The house had been built as more of a starter home for the original owners and it didn’t quite meet the needs of the growing family, especially when Jill and Kesa both got married and started having children of their own.
“Since we had such a great location right on the water, we opted to knock down the original home in 2001 and start over,” says Willa. “So now everything about this home is exactly how we wanted it. It’s really a dream come true.”
The best part of the whole house is the close proximity to the lake. Missouri Department of Natural Resources owns the property around the lake, so there are strict restrictions on where you can build in relation to the shoreline in order to insure the general public has full recreational enjoyment and fish and wildlife benefits, both now and for generations to come. No new houses are being built that would interfere with this commitment. The Johnson home is as close as it can be and they are able to dock their boat right in their backyard.
Once the dream house was completed, it became about finding the dream boat.
“We owned bow riders and other runabout type boats,” says Don. “So in other words, we were always cramped onboard and felt beaten up by the end of the weekend.”
“The safety factor wasn’t there either,” added Willa. “When we started to get grandkids, we wanted a boat that is safe and comfortable.”
The couple turned to their son-in-law, Steve Nieman, to help them locate a boat that their ever-growing family would be comfortable on. Steve and Jill are raising their kids, Blake 13, Hogan 7 and Isabel 5, in nearby Springfield, so they spend as much time as they can at the lake.
“I actually got a recommendation from a buddy about G3,” recalls Steve. “We were looking for a boat that we could do everything on and he said a Sun Catcher was the only way to go.”
At that point, they began investigating their options with G3. The family wanted a boat they could ski behind, yet still feel safe and comfortable. “We taught many kids how to ski over the years,” says Willa. “We wanted to continue the tradition with our grandkids.”
When boaters raise boaters who raise boaters, they understandably have extremely high expectations. The Johnsons had the experience to know exactly what they were looking for.
“We were looking for an all-around boat and the pontoon was it. It’s perfect for the family because there is lots of room for people and gear,” says Don. “When we got out on the Sun Catcher, we knew immediately it was the boat for us.”
The couple bought the boat on the spot. The only option the couple felt was needed was an upgraded sound system. Other than that, they felt G3 got it perfect right out of the gate with its standard package. “You wouldn’t believe the ease of handling this boat,” says Don. “I have been retired for 10 years and I just want to enjoy life. This boat makes it easy to do that.”
Yamaha-owned G3 has been extremely successful at producing pontoons with superior quality year after year. Part of the reason for this is that G3 is committed to each individual customer and exceeding their needs and expectations. “I won’t own another boat besides a G3 ever again,” says Don. “For the first time, I have a boat that I wouldn’t change one thing about. It allows me to continue building the family tradition of spending time on the water boating.”
Family tradition is important to the Johnson family and something that their grandchildren are surely benefitting from.
Kesa, now living in Colorado, has fond memories of boating and skiing on Table Rock. She wants her children to experience water sports as she did when she was growing up. She brings her family back each summer for a family lake vacation. Her children, Olivia 5 and Conor 2, follow their cousins’ lead and put on their life jackets with smiles on their faces and are ready to jump off of the G3 deck. Olivia is looking forward to adding water skiing to her newly-acquired sporting skills this summer.
Each of the Nieman kids has a personal preference when it comes to the boat. For Hogan and Isabel, their passion lies with skiing and tubing. These two are a great example of kids who have no fear when it comes to playing on the water. Even though the weather conditions were far from optimal the day we met up with them, the two kids quickly threw on their suits and jumped on the tube. “I love to tube and to ski,” says Isabel. “I got up the second time I tried behind this boat.”
These two played on the tube the entire way to the Danna‘s Boathouse Bar-B-Que at State Park Marina. “We love to get in the boat and come up here for dinner,” says Don. “The barbecue nachos are the best. Even if it’s not time for a meal, we’ll bring the kids up here for some lemonade because this marina is so family-friendly.”
State Park Marina on Table Rock Lake offers tons of water sports activities and is conveniently located near Branson, Mo. The clean, modern facility has boat rentals, wave runners, parasailing, scuba diving, bass fishing and offers daily cruises on the The Spirit of America, a 48-foot sailing catamaran. The Johnson family takes full advantage of living in close proximity to this wonderful marina by visiting often.“The Cox family has gone out of their way to make their business a wonderful asset to the entire community,” says Steve.
The people of the Johnson family aren’t the only ones who enjoy the Sun Catcher ‘toon. Family dog, Birdie, refuses to be left behind. “If she knows we are getting on the boat, she makes her presence known,” says Willa. “She may not be a water breed, but she loves being on the boat.”
Unfortunately though, Birdie, a sturdy mixed breed, really isn’t built to be a swimming dog. Steve was able to prove his commitment to the family by rescuing Birdie when she took an unforeseen tumble into the water. “Birdie misjudged the jump between the dock and the boat,” recalled Jill. “Next thing we know, we are watching her sink very quickly. We were all staring in horror when Steve took the plunge in after her.”
For now and for many years to come, you can find the Johnson family out on Table Rock Lake most weekends. It’s a passion that they have passed all the way down the line to the smallest family member.
“There is something about being on a boat that makes everyone more patient,” says Willa. “You can’t get upset while spending time on the water. Plus everyone leaves technology behind to spend time with the family. It’s really about getting back to the basics.”
A new generation of boaters is being built today and the Johnson family is an excellent example of how it should be done.