By Nikki McKim
His name was William Johnson and he was only 31 when he passed away from anaplastic astrocytoma and glioblastoma.
A young life that touched so many through love and service to his country resulted in a sizeable momentary donation to the Richardson County Cancer Fund (RCCF).
California resident Rohn Rookstool had become friends with Bill’s parents before he was born.
“They were all car gearheads; they were car people,” said Bill’s mom, Jackie Johnson. “That’s how they cemented the relationship.”
Bill’s dad, Larry, had known Rohn since high school and lived with him before he went into the Navy and the two remained very close throughout the years, with Rohn visiting the Johnsons every year.
It was a trip to St. Louis and that love of cars cemented the relationship between Rohn and Bill.
“They got really close traveling together,” said Jackie.
William “Bill” Johnson was born in California but later moved to Verdon with his parents, graduating from Dawson-Verdon High School in 1994.
After graduation, he joined the Navy, where he was stationed in Virginia Beach, VA, with the cargo handling group. He traveled all over the world to places like Cuba, Lithuania, Scotland and the Antarctic, delivering military supplies.
“I have a picture of him on top of the world.,” said Jackie. “He saw amazing stuff.”
Bill was in the Navy for four years when he was discharged in 1998 at Yorktown, VA. In his four-year military career, he received the Meritorious Unit Award, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Expert Rifleman Medal, Pistol Shot (Marksman) Ribbon and U.S. Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation.
“The Navy was the best thing he could have done,” said Jackie.
When he returned home, he enrolled at Peru State College, graduating in 2003 with a Bachelor’s Degree. Bill became employed with the Nebraska Department of Correction in 2004 at Tecumseh in a counselor position.
“He wanted to help people,” his mom says.
He was there for about eight weeks when he had his first seizure; He was never able to return to work.
Bill was diagnosed with Anaplastic Astrocytoma, that then turned into glioblastoma.
Glioblastoma and anaplastic astrocytoma (ANA) are two of adults’ most common primary brain tumors.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, The brain is made up of many different cells, including neurons, which constitute the electric circuitry responsible for brain functions, and astrocytes, which provide the structure and support for neurons to work correctly. Astrocytomas are tumors that originate from astrocytes, and in adult individuals, they are the most common brain tumors. In the U.S., about 15,000 new astrocytomas are diagnosed every year. Males are slightly more affected than females, with a ratio of 1.3/1.
Bill passed away on Saturday, December 9, 2005.
“He was special, a well-rounded guy. He was as comfortable with his dad and his car friends as he was in the kitchen with the women,” says his mom. “He loved to cook. It’s a cliché; Nobody told you life is fair because it’s not.”
Jackie said Peggy Davidson of the RCCF called her in January 2006, wanting her to start on the board of the Foundation.
“I can hardly put one foot in front of the other. I don’t know how we ate, anything for six, eight months,” Jackie said. “I swear I could hear Bill, ‘Mom, you can’t help me anymore, but you could help somebody else. Okay, I will. So I’ve been on the board since its inception. It’s hard to talk to anybody that hasn’t been touched in some way or another.”
After her son passed in 2005, the Johnson’s close family friend Rohn Rookstool started sending checks to the Richardson County Cancer Fund for $500 each December in memory of their son. Later the checks went up to $1,000.
“I’d call him and cry,” said Jackie. Rohn would tell her, “I wish it were more.”
Jackie said they were like family, but she was floored when she got a letter from Rookstool’s attorney after he passed away a few years ago.
Rohn had left ten percent of his estate to the Richardson County Cancer Fund in memory of Bill and Jackie had no idea.
“It was totally out of the clear blue,” she said. “He [Rohn] was a special guy.”
A former employee for the Aerospace division of Douglas Aviation, Rookstool, left $178,707.37 to the Richardson County Cancer Fund.
The letter sent by his Trust said, “Rohn Rookstool provided for the Richardson County Cancer Fund out of his love and friendship with his dear friends, Larry and Jackie Johnson, in memory of their son, William.”
The R.C. Cancer Fund provides help covering mileage expenses incurred during cancer treatments. The program has assisted over 500 qualifying cancer patients in Richardson County.
Rohn and Bill would have celebrated birthdays this week.
Today Bill’s fight and Rohn’s generosity live on through Jackie and this monumental donation.
Donations to the RCCF may be sent to RCFF, Inc., P.O. Box 292, Falls City, NE 68355,