Rosie Johnsen, St. Paul matriarch and pillar of East Side, dies at 97

A St. Paul woman who had a street named after her and worked at her family tavern for nearly 60 years has died.

Rosie Johnsen died Monday. She was 97.

Called a “pillar of East Side St. Paul,” Johnsen continued to work at the family’s restaurant until she was 95.

She was such a part of the Obb’s Sports Bar & Grill, near Indian Mounds Park, that a section of Burns Avenue in front of the tavern was unofficially renamed Rosie Boulevard in 2012 in honor of the longtime waitress.

A sign honoring Rosie Johnsen, longtime waitress at Obb’s Sports Bar in St. Paul, is unveiled on Oct. 10, 2012. Obb’s owner — and Rosie’s son — Jim Johnsen requested a ceremonial second sign be placed along Burns Ave. to honor his mother. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

The city made the change at the request of her son, bar owner Jim Johnsen.

“I did a lot for my mom because she did a lot for me,” he said.

The day she found out the street had been named after her was probably one of the best days of her life, he said on Sunday.

“That made her day. When she seen Rosie Boulevard — a street named after her — that was probably the highlight of her life,” he said. “She couldn’t believe it. She had the biggest smile you could ever believe.”

Johnsen said his mother worked for the restaurant for about 60 years.

“She waited on some people for 40 to 50 years, from when they started at 3M to when they retired,” he said.

Two years ago, she fell and passed out while she was at work, Johnsen said. After a doctor’s visit she insisted on going back to work, but her first day back, she fell again, and Johnsen told her she had to retire.

“I said, ‘Now you’re retired,’ ” he said. “She said I fired her.”

Johnsen laughed often Sunday as he recalled memories of his mother. The past few years she seemed healthy until she had a slight heart attack, he said.

Inver Grove Heights resident Josh Beissel looks up at waitress Rosie Johnsen as she addresses another guest at the table in Obb’s Sports Bar & Grill on Burns Avenue in St. Paul on Friday, July 29, 2011. (Chris Polydoroff / Pioneer Press)

“I had the opportunity to see my mother seven days a week. We were really, really close,” he said. “We worked good together.”

His mother was very charming and witty, he said.

“She loved working at Obb’s — she loved the people, she loved to make people happy, to make people smile. She just loved people.”

People would ask her, “Who is the boss?” Johnsen said. “She’d say ‘I’m the boss, but when the (expletive) hits the fan, I turn it back over to my son.’ She’d say, ‘Oh, you know what? He thinks he’s the boss.’ She was so cute and spirited.”

In a 2011 Pioneer Press article, Rosie Johnsen gave the secret to her longevity and energy: “Stay active and keep working. Don’t let things bother you. Tomorrow is always a better day.”