Otto Johnson has been a fixture at Canterbury Park for many years.
Although born and raised in North Dakota, he moved to Prior Lake when he was 21 and has been here ever since. Otto has been instrumental, through his involvement with the Quality of Life Foundation, in helping those involved in horse racing who need it most. He is a recovered alcoholic, sober since 1983, and has been integral in Canterbury’s efforts to help people such as himself and to improve the lives of stable-area employees.
In 1990, the Minnesota Racing Commission and Canterbury Downs created what is now known as the Minnesota Horse Racing Quality of Life Foundation. Otto has served on the foundation’s board since its inception. The Quality of Life Foundation was established to provide services that would improve the quality of life for licensed backside personnel during the live meet, which include the chaplaincy program, organized athletic games, English as a second language classes and treatment for individuals dealing with substance abuse issues.
Since 1995, the Foundation has concentrated its efforts on the issue of substance abuse and, with the assistance of licensed counselors from 5 Stars Recovery, provides for treatment and associated services for the licensees working on the backside at Canterbury. Due to the dedication of numerous individuals such as Johnson, who are associated with the Minnesota Horse Racing Quality of Life Foundation, Canterbury Park and the Minnesota Racing Commission substance abuse counseling and treatment services have been made available to the backside community for nearly 30 years. For the last 25 years, Johnson has served as the director of the Canterbury Park chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, holding weekly meetings for all MRC licensed personnel (the majority of which are backside workers), where they read about steps to recovery and hold discussions.
Thanks to Otto, there has been an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at the track every week during the live meet since the first year of racing in 1985. About his experience as director, he says, “I’ve met a lot of different people in AA, and I don’t know if every member has gained a lot from coming, but I have, and my experiences have kept me sober.” It is certain that Otto’s long-term dedication to the Foundation and to improving the quality of life for Canterbury Park’s employees has touched many lives over the three decades that he has devoted himself to the cause.
On Saturday, Otto will be honored for his work in a winners’ circle presentation. A race also has been named that day in recognition of his service to the horse racing community.