Timothy Johner, 65: Christmas decor lit up neighborhood

Tim Johner really loved Christmas.

Think Clark Griswold in the holiday cult classic “Christmas Vacation.” That was Johner, his wife said.

“He’s telling me about when he lived in Iowa that he won these outdoor decorating contests,” Debbie Dewey said of her husband. “And I’m thinking, ‘I do not want to be the Griswolds,’ and I actually said that to him.

“But that’s who we were,” she said with a laugh.

No matter the season, there was always a wee bit of Christmas at the Johner/Dewey house. And when Christmas rolled around, the Rivermoore Park neighborhood in Suwanee was in for a treat.

“My kids and I, even my husband, we couldn’t wait until morning to see what he’d added to the yard display from the day before,” neighbor Debbie Dovel said. “He was always adding to it. And you really couldn’t help but smile, watching him enjoy it so much.”

The last bit of Christmas 2012 finally came down Sunday afternoon. It was a bittersweet occasion for Dewey because she’d teased her husband about the neon snowflake lights all summer.

“He would turn them on every night,” she said. “They were really pretty, but come on, it was summer! But I know it will all go back up come Christmas as a tribute to him.”

Timothy Johner died Sept. 17 of an apparent heart attack. He was 65. His body was cremated by the Neptune Society, and a memorial gathering is planned for Oct. 12 in the subdivision where the couple lived.

A North Dakota native and Navy veteran, Johner wanted to be a teacher. His degree from the University of North Dakota was in mathematics, but after accepting a job as an estimator for a construction company, he spent 35 years in that industry instead. The job transfer of his second wife brought him to Georgia in 1995. The couple eventually divorced, and in December 1998 Johner, who’d started selling real estate when he lived in Iowa, met Dewey, who was an agent in Georgia. The couple married in February 2000 at a real estate convention, in Las Vegas no less.

“They were a great team,” Dovel said. “They recommended we put air conditioning in the basement, and Tim told my husband he’d install it if my husband went and got the supplies. How many agents do that?”

Johner, who had been diagnosed with cancer on three separate occasions and eventually received a stem cell transplant in January, “had the energy of 10 men,” Dewey said.

“He was always doing something around the house or for somebody,” she said.

Dovel said it wasn’t unusual to see Johner in the yard working, “even though he was so frail from the cancer treatments.”

All seemed to be going well after the transplant until Johner contracted fungal pneumonia and multiple blood infections, his wife said.

“But we beat that,” she said. “And we seemed to be doing OK.”

Johner had even checked out new Christmas decorations on a recent trip to Costco, his wife said.

“As soon as the merchandise hit the shelves, we had to go down that aisle,” she said laughing. “And just the other day he saw this snowman he wanted, but I was like, ‘No! Where are we going to put that thing?’ And he said, ‘Well, if we get it, then we’ll have a small, medium and giant snowman.’ That was how he thought about it.”

This year, maybe for the first time, Dewey is looking forward to decorating for Christmas.

“He’d be out there with his music and just happy as a clam,” she said. “It won’t be the same, but we will get it done.”

In addition to his wife of 13 years, Johner is survived by three children from his first marriage, Melissa Broyles of Seattle, Christine Walker of Indianapolis, and Michael Johner of Washington; his mother, Betty Johner of Tipton, Ind.; a sister, Cheryl Massey of Elwood, Ind.; and a brother, Jerold Johner of Phoenixville, Pa.

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