By Marlena Chavira-Medford
Solana Beach resident Diane Johnson grew up in Cannon Falls, a sleepy Minnesota town. While it was a happy life, Johnson said she felt a draw to explore the world — a journey that began when she traveled through Europe as a student at the University of Minnesota. That set the foundation for her globetrotting, which has taken her to Cuba, Vietnam, Egypt, Morocco, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, the Galapagos, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Russia, just to name a few.
While attending law school at the University of Minnesota, she administered the university’s Committee on the Use of Human Subjects in Research, which gave her experience with the world of medical devices. After graduating from law school, she joined St. Jude Medical, Inc., a manufacturer of cardiac devices that was headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota. Not only was she the company’s first in-house legal advisor, but she was also the first woman in senior management. When she retired from the company in 1997, she was vice president and general counsel.
“I decided that when I retired, I wanted to live somewhere where I could walk outside any day of the year without putting on a winter jacket and boots,” Johnson said.
That decision eventually brought her to the warm shores of Solana Beach. Johnson decided to dedicate her retirement years entirely to volunteering for worthy causes. Since 1997, she has helped animals through Rancho Coastal Humane Society, the Pet Encounter Therapy Program at Helen Woodward Animal Center, and the Coastal German Shepherd Rescue. She has also spent about nine years volunteering with The Make a Wish Foundation of San Diego, which she said has given her “the pleasure of meeting some wonderful children and their families.” Johnson also volunteers in the OR/ICU waiting room at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas.
Dedicating more than a decade to a number of nonprofits has taught Johnson a thing or two about volunteering.
“If I were asked to give any words of advice to people who are interested in becoming involved in the world of volunteering, I’d tell them that you might find yourself committed to the goals of a particular organization, but hands-on volunteering just doesn’t feel right. There will always be an organization that needs your help and when you find it, you’ll know it.”
What brought you to this neighborhood?
When I decided to retire in 1997, I knew that I didn’t want to return to the snow and cold of Minnesota so I checked out Scottsdale, Santa Fe, Boulder, and San Diego. I met with a realtor in Del Mar and once I saw this house in Solana Beach, I knew I was home!
What makes this town special to you?
I love the small town feel, but I also love the proximity to the ocean. When I am driving along the coast as the sun begins to set, I realize how fortunate I am to live in a place that is on other people’s list of a vacation destination.