CROSBY - Even after all they've been through, the Johnson family believes they wouldn't be given more than they can handle.
In 1994, life as they knew it came tumbling down around them.
Ronnet Johnson, a stay-at-home mom, did everything with 2-year-old Dezarae. She adored her little girl; the pair was inseparable.
"Dezarae was my little shadow," Ronnet recalled. "I took her with me wherever I went."
On the morning of Aug. 2, 1994, Ronnet and Dezarae went to a sand pit in Trommald to get dirt and sand for a landscaping project. The 20-foot-high pile of dirt was frequently used by locals for such yard projects. While Ronnet loaded her truck, little Dezarae played nearby.
And then it happened. The pit caved in, consuming Dezarae and temporarily trapping Ronnet. Despite having a punctured lung, broken ribs and a fractured hip, Ronnet was able to dig herself out after the collapse that left her chest-deep in dirt. She scrambled to get to the nearby highway and stopped a car to help. The driver happened to be Ronnet's brother and his friend. The two desperately searched for Dezarae who was nowhere in sight.
The Johnson family, Ronnet (left), Shania, 12, Holden, 8 and Bobby, posed at their farm near Crosby. The Johnson's are hosting the Dezarae Hope Harvest Festival and Hayride Saturday to thank the community for helping them in their time of need. Brainerd Dispatch/Nels Norquist » Purchase reprints of this photo.
"With my injuries I couldn't do much to help," Ronnet said while retelling the story of the worst day of her life.
Fifteen minutes after the collapse, they found her somehow still alive. She had severe brain damage and lived for three years after the accident.
The community has supported their family through benefits and fundraisers, or even just cards and kind words. Now it's their turn to give back.
The Dezarae Hope Harvest Festival and Hayride, an annual event, will be from 2-8 p.m. on Saturday. The free event will be a potluck, with pony rides and games for children and a bonfire. Barbecue and drinks will be provided and food will be served at 4 p.m. Bringing canned goods for a local food shelf or a children's coat for Coats for Kids is encouraged.
The Johnson's live on a farm near the Mississippi River in rural Crosby. The hayride will be a two to three mile jaunt along the river. Bobby Johnson expects as many as 300 people to attend the event.
"The community was really good to us and we want to give back," he said.
Harvest Festival and Hayride
When: 2-8 p.m., Saturday.
Cost: Free. Canned goods and used children's coats will be accepted.
Directions: From Crosby take Highway 6 North and turn left on County Road 30 West. Go about two miles and turn right on River Road. Go two miles to 18007 River Road. Signs will be posted Saturday.
For more information: Call 546-2650.
A film crew from the TV show (to air this spring) "Real Families, Real Answers" will be taping at the hay ride. They also filmed the Johnson family for four days this summer.
"Real Families, Real Answers" will feature 30 families from across the country, many of which who have gone through a tragedy. Bobby submitted his family's story after seeing a commercial for the show on BYUTV.
"There's a lot of people out there we could help," Bobby said of why he wanted the story publicized 13 years later.
"When you're going through it you never think it's going to end," Ronnet said. "There's no peace."
Dezarae would be 15 years old today. The Johnson's have two other children, Shania, 12, and Holden, 8. They have finally found peace.
"(Dezarae's) OK now. She wasn't OK when she was here," Ronnet said of her daughter's struggle to live following the accident.
"We'll see her again," Bobby added, referring to meeting in heaven. "It makes us work harder here (on earth) because we want to see her again (in heaven)."
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