It's common, especially this time of the year, for people to pray for peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

It's a good bet that on Wednesday, those two sentiments took a back seat as residents of Vermillion and South Dakota directed their spiritual appeals to provide a healing touch to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-Vermillion, and to protect his family.

According to news reports from the Associated Press, Sen. Johnson underwent brain surgery at approximately 10 p.m. Wednesday.

Thursday morning, it was reported that he was in critical condition following the operation.

Earlier Wednesday, Johnson became disoriented during a conference call with reporters, stuttering in response to a question. Before he ended the call, Johnson appeared to recover and asked if there were any additional questions. He then walked back to his Capitol office but appeared to not be feeling well.

He was examined by a Capitol physician and taken to George Washington University Hospital at midday Wednesday.

His office initially issued a statement saying the 59-year-old lawyer had suffered a possible stroke. By dinnertime, doctors had determined it was neither a stroke nor a heart attack. But there was no immediate word on the cause of Johnson's sudden health problems.

"I hate it when things like this happen," said Elizabeth Smith, professor of political science at The University of South Dakota. "My heart goes out to the family. I was incredibly saddened when I heard the news at about 4 p.m. today (Wednesday)."

Linda Kogel, a Vermillion attorney, and Barb Johnson both attended classes together while growing up in Sioux Falls at O'Gorman High School. It sparked a strong friendship that's lasted to this day.

Kogel was preparing to try to contact the Johnson family late Wednesday afternoon.

"I think it really is too early to speculate," she said. "I, at this time, prefer to be positive and hope that his health problems are mild."

Kogel has known the senator for over 35 years, and watched him grow into a political icon in South Dakota.

"He's one of the people who makes me still believe in the political system," she said. "He's just salt of the earth."

Maxine Johnson, who with her husband, Allen, have been very active in Clay County Democratic politics, also is a long-time Tim Johnson supporter.

"I remember when he was first elected to the South Dakota Legislature, and, of course, his switch to the national scene by successfully running for Congress," she said.

Maxine Johnson said she planned to watch the news Wednesday evening, and hope for the best. �I remember how a group of us, after watching him speak here in Vermillion, all commented on how he�s matured and has just grown more and more effective.

�We really need to have some consistency at this time in Washington,� she added. �Tim has given a lot to us, and I hate to think that (his health problem) could be anything bad.�

Two Vermillion people who know the senator the best are Mayor Dan Christopherson and his wife, Gloria, operator of the popular Nook �n Cranny store on Main Street. In a voice that still hadn�t stopped shaking after hearing Wednesday�s news, Gloria noted that she�s known Johnson from the time she moved here as a child.

Dan Christopherson, who wasn�t immediately available for comment Wednesday, has known him even longer. The two grew up together here, and have joked at public meetings that as kids they probably traded away a fortune�s worth of baseball cards that would be keepsakes today.

�He�s been of enormous value to the state,� Smith said.

Johnson�s face rarely is seen on national news broadcasts. �I think he�s always been clear about his role in the U.S. Senate as being of service to the state, and I think Vermillion in particular has benefited,� Smith said, �with projects ranging from bike paths to the downtown streetscape project.�

�He just has really made it his job of being of service, and that�s what we really want of members of Congress,� she said.

Ted Muenster, president of The University of South Dakota Foundation, described Johnson as pragmatic and a centrist in an Associated Press report Wednesday.

�He�s always been a voice of calm reason in discussing public issues,� said Muenster, a fellow Democrat from Vermillion. Muenster, a former gubernatorial chief of staff and unsuccessful Senate candidate in 1990, said Johnson has done a lot for his home state. Johnson has brought home millions of dollars for such water projects as Lewis & Clark, Mni Wiconi and Mid-Dakota � and has assisted his alma mater.

USD�s new medical science complex under construction is being built �with a good amount of federal funds in it which are directly attributable to his efforts in Congress,� Muenster said.

Johnson and his two colleagues in the South Dakota delegation have done a good job getting federal money because they know how to work the system, said Bill Richardson, head of the political science department at The University of South Dakota. Almost all its 535 members are forced to trumpet what they�ve done for their constituents when they go home, he said. That�s what causes 6,000-some earmarks in the federal budget bill, Richardson said.

Johnson served 10 years in the House before being elected to the Senate in 1996. His committee assignments reflect South Dakota: Indian Affairs and Energy and Natural Resources. His Appropriations Committee seat gives him opportunities to funnel funds to South Dakota.

From his position on the Indian Affairs committee, Johnson has worked hard on American Indian issues, Muenster said. Earlier this year, Johnson asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to take several thousand trailers that were unused during the agency�s Hurricane Katrina response and send them to Indian Country.

Muenster said Johnson has pressed hard on such agriculture issues such as biofuels and the new farm bill. �I�m hopeful he�ll be a strong part of that conversation,� he said.

As of Thursday morning, the office of Senator Tim Johnson released the following:

Admiral John Eisold, Attending Physician of the United States Capitol, said, �Subsequent to his admission to George Washington University Hospital yesterday, Senator Tim Johnson was found to have had an intra-cerebral bleed caused by a congenital arteriovenous malformation. He underwent successful surgery to evacuate the blood and stabilize the malformation.� The Senator is recovering without complication in the critical care unit at George Washington University Hospital.� It is premature to determine whether further surgery will be required or to assess any long term prognosis.�

Barbara Johnson, wife of Senator Johnson, said, �The Johnson family is encouraged and optimistic. They are grateful for the prayers and good wishes of friends, supporters and South Dakotans.

�They are especially grateful for the work of the doctors and all medical personnel and GWU hospital.�

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