Leah graduated from Hopkins High School with honors, as well as the Minnesota School of Business. She served in the U.S. Navy during WWII and attended the McPhail School of Music. Leah was married and had 2 children, Donna and Jeri. In 1949 she was paralyzed from the neck down with polio. Her doctor thought she would live only two, possibly three years. She was, however, determined to see her children grow up, and on July 19, 1961 she married Wayne Johnsen and they enjoyed 39 years together. In 1984 due to breathing difficulties she was placed on a ventilator and predisone until her death. In 1996 she had a stroke that decreased her mobility and her ability to speak clearly. Speaking was her way to reach out to the community and was one more limitation for her to overcome.
In 1976 Leah founded Independence Crossroads, the first center for independent living that serves people with disabilities and their families throughout the state of Minnesota. This agency was first funded in 1979 by Hennepin County with $2,500 and grew to what it is today. Leah was always very proud of the agency and how far it has grown. She was the primary contributor in the structuring of the present PCA program in Minnesota. She had been active at the State and Federal level of legislation, working with Senators Wellstone, Berglin, Durenberger and Representative Ramstad to continue the fight for better laws that affect the disability community. She attended the signing of the American with Disabilities Act signed by President George Bush in July 1990 and met with Mrs. Bush. In 1994 she testified regarding health care and met with Senator Ted Kennedy and Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Everyone who met Leah never forgot her. She always made such an impression with her perseverance, strength and her ability to speak up for so many who could not. Leah lived her life fighting to stay alive, to live independently and to love life and all of its joy’s. She died as she wanted to, in her sleep, from old age, in her own bed. Leah will be missed but never forgotten. Written by Leah and Donna (7/00)