Cashton community practices social distancing while honoring fallen resident

A funeral procession seen from afar on a country road

CASHTON, Wis. (WKBT) – When a person loses a loved one they want to pay respect to the life they lived.  Right now an organized group larger than 10 is illegal making a funeral a difficult thing to hold.

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Family and friends of Lester “Slim” Johnson gather as he is laid to rest at North Coon Prairie Luthern Church near Cashton and Westby.

However, the community of Cashton didn’t let that stop them from saying goodbye from a distance. Loss is a feeling that punches us harder than any physical pain can bring.

“That’s what makes this a little hard because the more memories you got the more it hurts in your heart,” said Chuck Johnson, the son of the late Lester Johnson.

The pain relief comes in the sharing of those memories, celebrating a life many Cashton residents respect.

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Funeral procession for Lester Johnson moves along highway 27 just outside of Cashton.

“Everybody knew him throughout the community and throughout the state,” said Sara Waughtal, Johnson’s granddaughter. “He left a great legacy for everybody to live up to.”

A legacy of 90 years, Johnson was a man everyone knew as Slim.

“Family was always first, horses right behind second,” Chuck Johnson said.

His labor of love was raising Belgian Draft Horses. Johnson bought his first horse in 1966 and participated in shows around Wisconsin including the Milwaukee Circus Parade, a big honor.

“His horses were so beautiful that they were always invited,” said Denise Hedrick Mulvaney, from Torkelson Funeral Home.

The celebration of Slim’s life wasn’t what they had in mind.

“They are limiting us to 10 people for funeral services and visitation,” Hedrick Mulvaney said. “We totally understand keeping the health and safety of the community and the family.”

That didn’t stop respects pouring in from a distance.

“They are doing kind of a virtual hug by doing a public procession,” she said.

Johnson’s pride and joys [his horses] lead the way as his escorts.

“Once we told people to bring their horses and join us in this procession, giddy up that’s all we had to do,” Hedrick Mulvaney said.

Chuck Johnson said the procession traveled along the same route his dad would take to get his horses ready for Milwaukee.

“I remember whenever dad ran into somebody dad would say, ‘Next week they are going to be in the streets of Milwaukee,'” Chuck Johnson said.

Those who knew him weren’t going to miss their chance to say goodbye.

“There were horse friends who came from two hours away to be here,” Chuck Johnson said. “Even if they couldn’t talk to us, that’s a sign of the respect he had.”

But it’s not really a goodbye because the memories we leave behind from the life we lived, live on forever.

“A lot of great memories,” Chuck Johnson said. “As you can see that is what rolls down my face.”

Lester ‘Slim’ Johnson’s life meant a lot to those who had the privilege of knowing him.

“Do something to make somebody smile every day,” Hedrick Mulvaney said. “I think that’s what Slim did and we can all learn from that.”