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Rhinelander High School graduate John Johnson, pictured right, rides along with Rhinelander mayor Dick Johns, left, during the 2014 Rhinelander Fourth of July Parade. Johnson is spending his summer as Mayor Johns’ intern. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
Rhinelander High School graduate John Johnson, pictured right, rides along with Rhinelander mayor Dick Johns, left, during the 2014 Rhinelander Fourth of July Parade. Johnson is spending his summer as Mayor Johns’ intern. (Jeremy Mayo/River News)
7/21/2014 7:30:00 AM
Waiting in the wings: Rhinelander alum interns under Mayor Johns

Andy Hildebrand
Feature Writer

For the first time in recent memory, the mayor of Rhinelander has an intern.

John Johnson, a graduate of Rhinelander High School, is learning under the watchful eye of Mayor Dick Johns for the summer and even rode with the mayor in the annual Fourth of July parade a few weeks ago.

Johnson said it's an incredible opportunity for him to get a peek behind the curtain of local politics.

"I'm a political science major and a public administration major at UW-La Crosse," he said. "I'm a senior this year, so it's going to be my last year. One of the things we have to do for a requirement is to have at least six credits for internships. One of the things I wanted to do was go back home to Rhinelander and set up some kind of internship. I thought it would be interesting to go to the mayor's office and set something up with them since he's at the executive level of the city. I wanted to coordinate my internship and my schedule with them this summer."

While the mayor doesn't usually employ an intern, Johns said Johnson's enthusiasm was plain to see and he was immediately excited about showing him the ropes.

"This is something new for us," Johns said. "He called the office last winter and talked to me about spending some time with us during the summer months to help him out with his school. It's nice to have an intern. He's a nice, young fellow. He's very interested in it and he works hard at it, even though he has a job on the side. We work together and I notify him a couple days ahead if we have something coming up. It works that way."

For the internship to count toward Johnson's credits, there was a certain number of things he needed to sink his teeth into. It's been more than he could have imagined and he's just getting started, he said.

"Some of the things that needed to be involved to coordinate everything with my professors at school are attend a lot of committee meetings, attend a lot of council meetings and learn as much as I can," Johnson said. "I have about a month and a half left this summer before I have to head back to school, and I still want to coordinate with the fire chief and the police chief to sit down with them. I really want to see how the different departments interact and how they work with the city as a whole."

Johnson still has plenty of time to learn about Rhinelander government, but Johns said he's very impressed with how involved he's been so far. Not only has he been curious and attentive, but he's taken some of the load off the mayor.

"He comes to most of the meetings, especially the city council meetings," Johns said. "He's learned the procedure and the ins and outs of what happens. We work together a lot. We'll get complaints on the phone, and I'll explain to him how I think they should be handled and what we can do about them. I give him the information, and then that's the same information I give to the department heads."

Johnson has a year of school before he enters the workforce, but he said he couldn't have had a better teacher than Johns.

"Mayor Johns has been really great to work with," he said. "He's been really great to coordinate my schedule with. I've been working a couple other jobs at the YMCA and at Trig's to pay for rent and pay for tuition, and I've actually been taking an economics course in addition, so I've been really lucky that he's been so easy to work with and so flexible."

Most importantly this experience will set Johnson up to succeed in the future. Johnson is only halfway through his internship, but already he's learned a great deal about the intricacies of local government. That will undoubtedly pay dividends as he moves forward.

"It's definitely taught me the ins and outs of politics at the local level," he said. "It's taught me how to interact with different types of people and how important the different relationships you make are. If anything, it's really taught me how important that connection is. It's been great to learn that in Rhinelander."

Andy Hildebrand may be reached at

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