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'A fervor for life that was undeniable': Brian Johnson, former owner of historic ND dance hall, dies

Brian and Becky Johnson stand in the old barn Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, near Arthur, N.D., that has hosted dances, concerts and receptions since the 1950s. Brian is struggling with Parkinson's disease, so they decided to sell the farmstead. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service file photo1 / 7
A gallery of yellowed publicity photos of musicians from decades ago that performed at Johnson's barn is on one of the walls. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service file photo2 / 7
Brian and Becky Johnson stand in front of the old barn Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, near Arthur, N.D., that has hosted dances, concerts and receptions since the 1950s. Brian is struggling with Parkinson's disease, so they decided to sell the farmstead. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service file photo3 / 7
Delon and Julie Cahoon of Casselton have purchased the farmstead that features Johnson's Barn in Arther, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service file photo4 / 7
The band 24Seven performs at Johnson's Barn April 21, 2007. Dave Wallis / Forum News Service file photo5 / 7
Johnson's Barn near Arthur, N.D., has hosted dances, concerts and receptions since the 1950s. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service file photo6 / 7
The charred remains of vehicles are seen Thursday, Nov. 9, 2017, in the burned remains of Arthur’s Barn in rural Arthur, N.D. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service file photo7 / 7

WEST FARGO, N.D.—Brian Johnson, the former owner of "Johnson's Barn," a historic dance hall and event venue in rural Arthur, N.D., has died. He was 66.

Johnson died Saturday, June 16, at home in West Fargo. In 2012, Johnson was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and retired from farming as a result in 2015, said his obituary.

For 63 years, each-and-every Friday, thousands of toe-tapping guests at Johnson's Barn got to experience Johnson's "fervor for life" firsthand.

The barn, which was established in 1952, served primarily as as a dance hall and concert venue. It was a Friday evening rural escape in Arthur, a farm town about 33 miles northwest of Fargo, where men and women alike would let loose and dance the night away.

"People come here to meet their girlfriends, their husbands," said Becky Johnson, Brian's wife, in a 2015 article in the New York Times. "Then they come back for their anniversary."

A 17-minute documentary titled, "Last Dance at Johnson's Barn," was inspired by the New York Times piece after two Colorado filmmakers read the story themselves and decided to bring the Johnson's story to life. The documentary made its eventual debut at the Fargo Film Festival in March 2018.

On April 1, 2015, the Johnson's sold the historic farmstead—barn included—to Julie and Delon Cahoon, of Casselton, N.D. The farmstead sat on the market for six months, and long standing fans of the venue began to wonder if the future of the barn was in jeopardy.

However, new owners were found and the barn still carried on its 63-year legacy of hosting dances on Friday nights. The only change to the barn was its name, going from Johnson's Barn to Arthur's Barn.

"It's just like it was meant to be," said Julie Cahoon in a news article about the sale.

Then, on Oct. 26, 2017, tragedy struck after an electrical malfunction caused the historic barn to crumble to the ground. North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a native of Arthur, even took time to share his sympathies in a tweet.

"Johnson's Barn is tragically gone, but 70 years of music & dancing memories will live on in all who experienced magic in this special place," Burgum's tweet read.

In Jan., 2018, instead of giving up, the Cahoon's began fundraising efforts to rebuild Arthur's Barn. Benefit concerts and online crowdfunding campaigns got the ball rolling on the rebirth of the barn.

"If it weren't for the passion for the dances and legacy of the barn, they (the Cahoons) would have probably just let it go," a statement on the barn's website reads. "But the barn has a life of its own—they knew they had to find a way to rebuild."

On the Arthur's Barn Facebook page, a photo posted on June 9 shows a concrete slab being poured where the old barn once stood.

"We are turning a corner here! Hoping to schedule our "slab" dance soon after the big pour! More pics coming soon," the Facebook post reads.

The new owners say they hope to have the rebuilt barn up-and-running by this winter—something that would make its former owner quite proud.

Johnson is survived by his wife Becky, children Eric and Adra; two brothers, Gary and Jay; and two sisters, Karen and Shari.

"Brian loved to read from a very young age and had an insatiable desire for knowledge," his obituary reads. "He loved to travel both domestic and abroad, including visiting all 50 states with Becky."

"He and Becky shared a passion for cycling. After retiring from farming he often remarked that the thing he missed the most were the dances at Johnson's Barn. Brian had a fervor for life that was undeniable."

A memorial service for Johnson will be held at The Sanctuary Events Center, 670 4th Ave. N., in Fargo on July 1 from 1 to 5 p.m.

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