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John and Sue Lawson


John Lawson, his twin sister, and their youngest sister were all born in Moline, Illinois, where John’s father’s grandparents and his mother’s parents had settled after emigrating from Sweden. John’s father was a third-generation independent grocer,
and from the time he can remember, John was involved in the grocery store,
stocking shelves, making deliveries even before he had a driver’s license, and
baking and selling slices of cake on Saturday mornings. John enjoyed the work and
fully expected to be the fourth-generation independent grocer in his family.
When John started high school, his father told him that he should start thinking about his future, because the independent grocers were being replaced by big supermarkets. He felt John should pursue a different career, and just a few years later, his dad ended up selling the family business. John liked mathematics and tinkering, so he thought he would like to study engineering. He decided to go to Iowa State University, where there was a cooperative engineering program in which students alternated each quarter between classwork and working. Throughout his years at Iowa State, John worked every other quarter in mechanical engineering at John Deere. During his third year at Iowa State, an SAE fraternity brother set him up on a blind date with Sue Nelson.
Sue, an only child and only grandchild, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her ancestors were German and English, but all of her extended family on both sides lived in St. Louis. She was very close to her mother’s parents and remembers playing games and going to the circus with her grandmother. When Sue was seven, her father took a job with the Army and Air Force Motion Picture Service setting up theaters for GIs in Germany after the war. The family moved to Germany in 1947 and lived there for
three years. Then when Sue was ten years old, the family relocated to Omaha,
Nebraska, where her father went to work for Ballantyne Instruments and
Electronics and eventually rose through the ranks to become president.
Sue went to high school in Omaha and then went to Iowa State University, where she was a cheerleader and an aspiring speech pathologist. Near the end of her second
year, Sue asked a Theta sorority sister to fix her up with someone wonderful, and
she did—John Lawson. They were married in June of 1962, four weeks after they graduated. To this day, Sue says that she is the luckiest person in the world to be married to John because of his even temperedness, thoughtfulness, and humility.
They moved to Rock Island, Illinois, and John went to work full time at the John Deere corporate headquarters in Moline. He continued to work for the company for his
entire career. John Deere had special significance for John, because his maternal grandfather had worked for fifty-three years in the tool room in John
Deere’s Moline factory. John still has his grandfather’s service pins.
For three years, John worked in several engineering departments in the corporate office in Moline. This was a hard time for Sue, because she didn’t know anyone in that area, and John didn’t want her to get a job. Their son Bob was born in 1964, and Sue would walk up and down their street looking for people with whom she could visit. She
was very excited when, in 1965, John was asked to relocate to John Deere’s flagship European factory in Mannheim, Germany, which is the company’s largest manufacturing facility outside North America. While working out of that engineering field office, John had the opportunity to service other factories in Germany, France, Spain, and South Africa. He was also given some supervisory responsibilities and was eventually put in charge of the engineering field office. Life in Germany was much more enjoyable for Sue. In addition to finding the place she lived as a child, she and John and their young son spent many holidays and long weekends driving and exploring around Europe.
In 1968, John was transferred to the Deere factory in Des Moines, Iowa, where he was given a lot of supervisory roles and slowly migrated away from engineering and
into factory management. Sue loved Des Moines, because they had a wonderful neighborhood with lots of families. Their two daughters, Jennifer and Ann, were
both born there. John calls 1968 to 1985 the “factory years,” with additional
assignments in the Quad Cities (multiple times), Horicon, Wisconsin, and
Dubuque, Iowa, where he worked his way up to general manager. Along with
the interesting and enjoyable assignments, John faced some challenges as
well. The high inflation and high interest rates of the 1980s forced downsizing
of the Dubuque operation. Over five years, it shrank from 8,000 to 2,000
employees, and John feels that was a difficult learning experience for him.
Sue was very supportive through the good times, the hard times, and the frequent relocations. They bought their first house a year after being married and have owned twelve different homes over the years. John says Sue never once hesitated or said no
to any of the frequent moves required by his career. In 1985, John was asked to go
back to the corporate headquarters in Moline, where he spent the next seventeen years. He was president of the construction business, then president of the
grounds care business, then a senior vice president of the company. In 2002,
at age sixty-two, John decided to retire after forty-four years with Deere.
Throughout his career, John served on a dozen or more corporate and charitable boards, including a bank in the Quad Cities and Kent Feed Company in Muscatine, Iowa. Sue also volunteered with the Girls and Boys Club, Visiting Nurses, Festival of Trees in the Quad Cities, and Sunshine, a hospital auxiliary. Her work in the gift shop
at Festival of Trees led her and a friend to start a custom filled gift basket business.
She co-owned that business for several years, then worked as a floral designer.
John and Sue started coming to Sanibel during spring break in 1981, and they continued to vacation there with their family every year after. They eventually bought a condo at Loggerhead Cay and then, in 1994, found Sue’s dream vacation home at 263 Ferry Landing. For eighteen years after John retired, it was their winter residence, and
they feel Ferry Landing is a special community that they have shared with some
of the same neighbors for many years. Hearing their stories led John to do
extensive research and compile a booklet about the interesting history of
Ferry Landing and its residents. John enjoyed bike riding, taking a spin in
his Corvette, and golfing with Ferry Landing friends. Sue used her artistic
skills in learning glass fusion, piano playing, and basket weaving.
A few years ago, a neighbor at Ferry Landing started talking to John and Sue about Shell Point, and John told Sue to shoot him if he ever said he would live there. Five years later, the health care benefits of Shell Point started looking more attractive, and the plans for the new Enclave neighborhood seemed just what they would want. By the time the Enclave was finished, John and Sue were ready to move, and they have no regrets whatsoever. They sold their house in Rapids City, Illinois, to their daughter Jennifer and her husband. They sold their Ferry Landing home to their son Bob and
his wife, who live in California. Their youngest daughter Ann and her husband live
in Clinton, Iowa, and all together, John and Sue have seven grandchildren.
After downsizing, John and Sue are enjoying a much simpler life at Shell Point. John
rides his bike, plays golf with old friends from Ferry Landing and new friends from
Shell Point, and is twelfth on the waitlist for a garden plot. At the first gathering
of Enclave residents, John met neighbor Dick Johnson, and they realized how
small the world is when they discovered that they had been born in the same
Moline hospital and had both studied engineering at Iowa State University.
Sue still meets with the Ferry Landing book club, still weaves baskets, and is
learning to “throw” some pottery in the studio at the Tribby. They have always
enjoyed taking tours and cruises and hope to be able to start traveling again soon.

Sue Lawson baskets.jpg
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