UW-Stout Professor Jerome “Jerry” Johnson sits on one of the benches made by students he has worked with since 2017, as part of a Menomonie Urban Forestry Board project. Photo: UW-Stout
A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout who has helped students with a lab-based, community project was honored as Citizen of the Year by the Menomonie Urban Forestry Board.
Jerome “Jerry” Johnson 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.