Editor’s note: This is one in a series of profiles in the Humans of Wausau series, which is funded in part through a grant from the B. A. & Esther Greenheck Foundation. Follow the Humans of Wausau Facebook page here.
By Kelli Oligney for Wausau Pilot and Review
Elliot Johnson, 27, of Schofield
Q: What do you do for a living?
A: I bartend and grow cranberries.
Have you always done that or how did you get into those businesses?
Well, my father’s father first owned the last federal reserve gold mine in Alaska and got
that taken away because he didn’t pay his land tax and then in 1990 moved here and was
on the Board of Representatives for Ocean Spray and started a bunch of cranberry
That’s awesome. What would you say that’s like for a living? Is it long days?
Long days – you have to get used to the cold, get used to working in water, can be hot and
it’s all year round. It’s dirty work, but it pays the bills.
What about bartending? What is that like?
It’s a great job and you get to meet a lot of new people. I’ve met a lot of people through
bartending – business owners to people who have nothing and it’s a harder job than you
think because people come into the bar to talk to you and we are an underpaid
psychologist. Other than that, it’s fun – it has its moments, but that also pays the bills.
For both of them, what’s your favorite and least favorite of bartending and the cranberry
My least favorite part of the cranberry marsh is working in water when it’s 32 degrees
outside in the fall. The least favorite part about bartending is when people can’t hold their
alcohol and fights break out and have to involve law enforcement and people just can’t act
What about your favorite part of both?
My favorite part of the marsh is the tan you get from growing cranberries in the summer
and working with heavy equipment. My favorite part of bartending is getting to know
people – every aspect of people there is. That’s probably the best part about bartending.
What would you say is the most memorable experience you’ve had while bartending? Are
there certain people you met that will stick with you from it?
Last year, Memorial Day, I had a Veteran come in and order a tap beer and ask me for a
sticky note. He wrote the guys name, date of birth, and the day he died, and left it on the
bar and said “Could you keep this on the bar?” I didn’t move that glass of beer until 9:00
pm when my shift was over. He left it there for his dead buddy.
That’s really sad.
Yeah, probably the most memorable moment I’ve ever had bartending.
Did he ever come back?
He just came in on Memorial Day and had a beer and I never saw him again.
Would you say that due to both of your jobs, you have changed as a person because of
Yeah, I definitely learned my work value from being on the farm and what it takes to keep
a job. From bartending, I learned you have to deal with every aspect of people. You can’t
judge and label people – you just have to keep a smile on.
What was the hardest age for you growing up? Why?
Probably my mid-twenties and learning the aspect of life. I got in trouble – not gonna talk
about that. My grandmother had died, my grandfather had died within a few years, my
stepdad was diagnosed with cancer. Definitely has been in my 20s that have been the
What kind of cancer does your ste dad have?
He has stage 4 kidney cancer, but has spread through everything so I don’t even know
where it is now. My grandma died of non-Hodgkin’s stage 4 lymphoma and my grandpa
died of old age who ran the cranberry marsh. That’s about that.
That’s a lot of things to happen in a short period of time.
What is one of the most memorable moments of your life?
The most memorable moment would have to be going to the Bahamas the last time with
my grandmother before she died.
Did you do a lot of things there or just hang out?
Yeah, we hung out in our condo for two weeks. Well, I was only there for a week – they
were there for two weeks and was probably one of the last times she was strong enough
to go and I remember that as one of the most memorable.
What has been the hardest moment of your life?
Watching my brother die, probably. When I was 12.
How old was your brother?
He was seven. He died of medical issues.
What is a lesson you have learned in life?
Stay positive. Always gotta stay positive. No matter how hard of a time you are in, stay
positive and there is always an end to the misery. Just stay positive.
What is your favorite local spot?
That’s a hard one.
You can have a couple. It can be anything – whether you want to relax, be around people,
or in different moods.
Rib Mountain in the winter for snowboarding and just to get away and I enjoy that activity.
Have you snowboarded a long time?
Yeah, I’ve snowboarded since I was 10. In the summer, it would probably be out on the
lake fishing somewhere. I don’t know where or just hanging out with friends.
What would you say motivates you each day?
Waking up with a smile – that’s definitely what motivates me. It’s not my work or my job,
but probably waking up to my girlfriend and her kids and just having a smile. It’s how my
life’s always been.
Would you say some days it’s harder than others?
Definitely, but you can’t let your hard days get you down. When you’re happy, you just
have to stay happy. Life is too short to be a pissed off human being.
What’s your favorite quote and why?
It definitely would have to be – I don’t know if I’m gonna get this right, but it’d have to be
“you can’t do epic shit with basic people.” That would probably be my favorite quote. The
reason is because life is too short and you have to keep it interesting. If people don’t agree
with what you’re doing, it’s not their life or opinions. In Wausau, we’re such a small
community and people have their opinions and think it needs to be that way, but it
doesn’t. Care about yourself – you can’t care about people’s opinions.
Tell me a little about your family. Do you have a large family? Are you all close?
I have a big family. On my dad’s side, I have two aunt’s who have never been married or
have kids. My dad was married to my mother, only one marriage, and I’m the only
offspring on the Johnson side. On my mother’s side, the Volpe side, they have Angelo’s
Pizza so there’s like 15 of us, I think – I don’t know how many – big family. The Johnson side
is definitely a small family.
What’s a hidden talent that you have?
I can hit anything with a wrist rocket or a sling shot, if you gave me one.
Have you been doing that since you were younger?
I had a sling shot since I was about eight years old.
If you had to give advice to anyone, what would it be?
PMA. Always keep a positive mental attitude. I’ve been through a lot in my life. If I can get
through the things I have been through, anybody can get through things as long as you
stay happy and you don’t take your actions out on others. That’s definitely one of the
things I’ve learned within the last year or so too. I have projected my insecurities onto
people and that’s wrong – you can’t do that. Otherwise, stay positive.