It was Sept. 28, 1917 when eight-year-old Ellen Johanson stepped off the train at the Southern Pacific Railroad station in Turlock with her Swedish family, giving up everything they owned to come to the still-primitive city. In 2017, the Turlock residents that exist today as a result of that brave journey celebrated their family legacy that has flourished in the city for a century, and is still known today thanks to one family member who decided to write everything down.
The family of Hjalmar and Anna Johanson gathered Saturday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of their family coming from Sweden to Turlock, sharing Swedish jokes, nibbling on Swedish-themed cookies and reading passages from the life story of their daughter Ellen, who, according to her granddaughter Kathleen McGinnis, thought that keeping a record of the Johansons’ history was of the utmost importance.
“We all have a great appreciation for a documented family history,” said McGinnis. “Without her, we would have had no reason to gather.”
The gathering of the Johansons’ descendants took place at McGinnis’ home in Turlock, where she said some family members were reunited after having not seen each other for over 30 years. Blue and yellow Swedish décor brought the family’s homeland here to America, along with Swedish food and music, and a family tablecloth thought to be one of the few things that came over on the boat from Sweden was displayed.
In 1993, Ellen shared with The Journal that upon arriving in Turlock, her family wondered why they hadn’t purchased round-trip tickets. She remembered hearing her parents’ disappointed reactions to the city as an eight-year-old girl.
“We came to Turlock and it seemed there was nothing but tumbleweeds and sand,” said Ellen. “They said it was the biggest disappointment and that they wanted to make the move and take the family back to Sweden as soon as they could come up with the money.”
But, the family stayed, with Hjalmar establishing a successful cement contractor business. Today, his great great great great grandson still calls Turlock home, and the Johanson clan has come to see Turlock as more than just tumbleweeds and sand.
“Turlock holds a special place in our hearts,” said McGinnis.