FARGO - Don Johnson, the man who lent his name to Fargo-Moorhead’s well-known Don’s Car Washes chain, has died.

Johnson died Tuesday, Nov. 3, at Bethany on 42nd in south Fargo, with his wife, Dorothy, at his side.

He was 90.

Johnson, who had moved to Fargo in 1953 with his wife, was attracted to the car wash industry after watching his own vehicle be pulled through an automated car wash in the Twin Cities during the mid-1950s.

Johnson and Melvin Skarphol opened their first car wash in 1958 at 1802 Main Ave. in Fargo. Johnson was president of the firm, which eventually grew to 10 locations in Fargo, Moorhead, Minneapolis and Billings, Mont.

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He also owned Don’s F-M Oil, which operated several Phillips 66 gas stations, a 15-Minute Speed Lube and a fuel oil distributorship.

“I’ve always been expansion minded. I’ve never been one to say ‘no’ to an opportunity. I love a challenge,” Johnson told a local publication, Howard Binford’s Guide, in July 1985.

“He was a strong man of Main,” his youngest daughter Peggy Stordahl said.

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He was a man of deep Christian faith and “he was a funny guy … cracked a lot of jokes. A really good listener,” said Stordahl, who began working with her father in the business when she was a senior in high school..

“My dad was always innovative. He was always wanting to expand,” she said. “He was able to employ a lot of people.”

In 1987, Johnson and his partner sold Don’s Car Washes to his employees through an employee stock ownership plan.

Don Johnson, the man who lent his name to Fargo-Moorhead’s well-known Don’s Car Washes chain, has died. Don’s Car Wash on 13th Ave. is seen on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum
Don Johnson, the man who lent his name to Fargo-Moorhead’s well-known Don’s Car Washes chain, has died. Don’s Car Wash on 13th Ave. is seen on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

Johnson remained involved with the firm in a consulting capacity, retiring in 1997, Stordahl said.

Johnson was born in Clearbrook, Minn, to Tallack and Sylvia (Sorenson) Johnson on March 16, 1930. He graduated from Clearbrook High School in 1948.

He served one year in the U.S. Army, then was called back to active duty service when the Korean War started. He served with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea from Dec. 7, 1950, to November 1951.

After returning to the United States, he lived in Minneapolis.

He married Dorothy Levine in Marquette, Mich., on Aug. 29, 1953. They moved to Moorhead, where he attended Concordia College and then worked in construction with Twin City Construction and United Ventures until 1958 when he entered the car wash business.

Johnson was diagnosed about 22 years ago with a blood cancer called Waldenström Macroglobulinemia and it was initially thought he would only live five years, Stordahl said. However, the progression of disease turned out to be much slower. “He sure fooled everyone,” Stordahl said.

It was old age that finally caught up with him, Stordahl said.

“He was just worn out,” she said.

Don and his family enjoyed their home on Bad Medicine Lake in Becker County, Minn., from 1981 until 1996 and wintered in Arizona from 1996 until 2010.

Johnson served on the boards of the Fargo Union Mission (New Life Center), Eventide, Salvation Army, YMCA, and American Bank and Trust in Moorhead. He also served several years as a member of the board of the International Car Wash Association.

He was an avid hunter, fisherman and golfer.

Johnson is survived by his wife, Dorothy; children, Nancy Warwood (Bozeman, Mont.), David (Debi) Johnson, Boise, Idaho, Marie Grey, St. Cloud, Minn.,and Peggy (Bruce) Stordahl, Fargo; four grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his parents and siblings, Willard Johnson and Arvilla Joncas.

Funeral arrangements are being made with Hanson-Runsvold Funeral Home, Fargo.