John Darrel Magnuson Sr.: June 12, 1931 – March 20, 2021



John Darrel Magnuson Sr., of Sebring, Fla., left this world peacefully in his sleep to reunite with his Heavenly Father shortly after midnight Saturday, March 20, 2021. He was 89 years old. A great man, husband, father, grandfather and friend, he will be missed deeply and remembered lovingly.

John was born June 12, 1931 in Greensburg, Kan., to Carl Sefus Magnuson and Hattie Bertina Nelson. John was the third of eight children and was the only student in his grade at the Zion one-room schoolhouse. They lived on a farm that once belonged to his grandfather, Swan Magnuson. John’s father told him they had a farm because working on a farm “keeps boys out of trouble.” John’s grandfather, Swan Magnuson, came to America from Sweden in 1883 at age 13 after earning his own passage money. At the time, Swan only spoke Swedish and had no money in his pockets, but through hard work and perseverance, he eventually was able to purchase two farmsteads in Kansas. It is believed that John inherited his grandfather’s work ethic, as John tirelessly worked jobs and provided for his family at all times, even after retirement.

John’s mother Hattie, died when he was age 9, and a month later the family moved to Osceola (St. Joseph County) in the South Bend area of Indiana. There, John’s grandmother Selma Nelson (Peterson) helped raise the children. She was a very religious woman, and John and his brother Ivan were known to be mischievous. When they got into trouble, their grandmother would disappear to her bedroom. John and Ivan peeked in on her one day and found that she was on her knees praying for them. John accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his savior as a young teenager and credited his Grandma Nelson’s godly influence for his conversion. He remained strong in his faith throughout his entire life, even into his final years when he would spend time diligently memorizing Bible passages that he wrote on index cards.

At age 18, John enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on June 22, 1949. After he receiving his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, he was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. It was in D.C., that John met his first wife, Rosie Marion Snyder. They married on Aug. 4, 1950. In the Air Force, John was an electrician assigned to the 22nd Crash Rescue Boat Squadron that saw combat during the Korean War.

John would sometimes tell the harrowing story about a time he remembered he was in real danger during the war. They were headed back to Inchon, Korea from somewhere north of the 38th parallel when they encountered an enemy Navy ship that fired two artillery shots at them. The first shot narrowly passed across the bow of their small 85-foot ship. Then, a second shot hit the water just behind their stern. John recalled that many of the crew on board “thought they were goners” when they saw the flash of that ship’s guns firing, but somehow they survived to tell the tale. John was honorably discharged at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida on Dec. 12, 1952.

John and Rosie moved to Washington state in October 1959 and eventually settled on Whidbey Island. Although they had children of their own, they felt the calling as Christians to open their hearts and their home to many foster children over the years. John and Rosie spent the remainder of their married years at the Lakeside Bible Camp in Clinton, Wash., where John worked for 21 years as a caretaker.

John also worked at the South Whidbey School District for 28 years, 14 of them as a bus driver, and another 14 years as custodian and head of maintenance. Many will recall that John was beloved by staff and students alike and the high school students affectionately gave him the nickname “Chief.”

After John retired from the school district in 1994, he bought a truck and trailer, sold his house, and went traveling. John stayed in Indiana for five months with his brother Carl, who told him about a nice Baptist retirement village in Sebring, Fla., at which Carl had already spent many winters volunteering. True to character, John wanted to stay active and productive, so he took his brother up on his suggestion to volunteer there also. After volunteering at the Village for just a few weeks, the management offered John a full-time position performing essential services of plumbing, AC, electrical and grounds maintenance. John continued to work for the Village in this capacity for an additional nine years.

It was while working at the Village that he met the new beautiful office lady, Mary Onnie Belle Caffoe (Hagerdon). John and Mary were destined to be together and they married on Feb. 24, 1996. Since Mary gave him work orders for various things that needed to be fixed around the Village, John always joked that Mary gave him orders while at work, but when they got home she took orders from him. During their time together, John and Mary travelled everywhere, visiting all U.S. states except for Alaska and Hawaii. John and Mary celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary just last month, on Feb. 24, 2021.

John was an active member of the Maranatha Baptist Church since he moved to the area in 1995, and it was evident that he believed in serving God through serving his community. He continued to stay active and to give back to his community throughout his lifetime. Even after recovering from heart surgery, he jumped back on his feet to serve dinners at The Manor, where he had been helping out for about two years. For over six years he also contributed his time to Sebring Hope Hospice, by driving people to appointments, and along with Mary, managing an informational booth at the local health fairs. John also volunteered as an usher at the Ministry and helped clean up his community after hurricanes.

John was a loving father who valued his family above all else. Since the early 1980s, a big annual family reunion for the Magnuson-Koon-Nelson-Peterson extended family has been hosted in various places throughout the U.S. The event typically lasts several days, with attendees well over a hundred. These reunions were very important to John, who attended most of them until recent years when his health prevented him from traveling.

At 89, John remained a kid at heart. He never missed an opportunity to find even the smallest bit of humor to help lift any situation. Even after having sustained health problems that severely limited his mobility, John stayed positive and retained his sense of humor. A few days before John died, one of his hospice care workers told him casually that they would see him later that week, to which John replied seriously, “No you won’t.” The hospice worker was puzzled at first. Then John jokingly told her that he was going to be hiding under the bed. They all had a good laugh.

John will forever be remembered for his love of family, keen sense of humor, work ethic, and dedication to Christ.

John now rejoices in his reunion with his Heavenly Father; his parents; brothers Carl Junior Magnuson, Ivan Leroy Magnuson and Norman Dale Magnuson; and sisters Cleo Jean Albert Shidler, Alta Elvera Kime and Wanda Lee Lemert.

John is survived by his wife Mary Onnie Belle Magnuson, of Sebring, Fla; younger brother Ralph Lavaune Magnuson, of Sebring; children Marelee Dawn Thorneberry, of Clearwater, Neb., John Darrel Magnuson Jr. (Ilene), of Clinton, Wash., Melanie Rae Thiessen (Al), of Ladysmith, British Columbia, Ross Allen Magnuson, of Oroville, Calif., Kimberly Rose Thomas (Gordon), of Olha, Manitoba, and Paul Carl Magnuson, of Freeland, Wash; stepchildren Julie Nicholson (Dwight), of Gravette, Ark., and Ken Caffoe (Gena), of Pikeville N.C.; grandchildren Tim Koop, Heather Gill, Dawn Plain, Holly Magnuson, Zachary Magnuson, Lani Zastre, Carl Thiessen, Caspian Kuschnereit, Dustin Kuschnereit, Adrian Kuschnereit, Brandon Kuschnereit and Chelsea Dunlap; and 18 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be provided by Stephenson-Nelson Funeral Home. John’s ashes will be laid to rest with military honors at Sarasota National Cemetery at 2 p.m. March 31, 2021.

A short memorial service will be held April 7, 2021 at Maranatha Baptist Church in Sebring, Fla. The family requests that any donations in his name be sent to Maranatha Manor, 54 Maranatha Blvd., in Sebring, FL 33870, or to the Lakeside Bible Camp, 4170 Bible Camp Dr., Clinton, WA 98236.

All those who wish to share memories and condolences are encouraged to do so online at

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