Posted by Ed Fink on Jan 12, 2024
Leslie Johnson, wife of UW Women’s Hockey Coach Mark Johnson, spoke to The Rotary Club of Madison West Middleton about the couple’s big plans for their lives now and at a time beyond hockey. Leslie and Mark are founders of Agape Ranch, whose Agape Ranch Foundation is a 501©3 organization, now in the midst of a capital campaign. The Mission Statement of the organization says it “exists to encourage children to experience the healing power of God’s love through animals, land and people. We will mentor the child and give hope to the family.”
Leslie Johnson of Agape Ranch
Agape is slated to open in the Spring of 2025 at 7982 Coray Lane, outside of Verona. Their services will be free.

Leslie Johnson grew up in Madison, with a love of horses, nurtured by time spent at the rural Iowa home of an uncle and aunt. She and a sister spent entire summers
there, riding bareback and tending to the farm animals. When Leslie’s aunt and uncle parted with their horses, she luckily found a chance to work with horses closer to home. She even learned to ride jumping horses. After marrying Mark, the couple spent more than a decade moving about in the professional world of hockey, while raising their children. Later, after more than a decade in pro hockey, the Johnsons returned to Madison. Back home again, Leslie took advantage of an opportunity to work with horses. A newer aspect to her work with the animals involved the game of polo.
As the Johnsons contemplated a post hockey future, Leslie happened to read an inspirational book by Kim Meeder, whose childhood was fractured by the violent death of her parents. Meeder’s book is entitled Hope Rising. It tells stories of neglected and abused horses and troubled children benefiting each other. Meeder’s own young life was positively impacted by a pony. In one poignant example, given in Meeder’s book, a seemingly non-verbal child began speaking to her horse. Meeder has a ranch of her own, where children and horses have been put together with positive results. The Johnsons interest in Meeder’s program took them to a four- day conference given by Meeder and her husband. It was offered for people, like the Johnsons, who were considering replicating what the Meeders had done.
The Johnsons were hooked, and the Meeder operation became a model for their own Agape Ranch. The Johnsons envision children with physical, emotional and other needs coming to Agape, but Leslie pointed out the children “have to want to be there.” The Johnsons will make available, not only mentors and horses, but other farm animals, arts and crafts, hiking trails and more. Children will also learn about volunteerism and giving back to the land. Parents are expected to accompany their
child. For more information on Agape Ranch, visit their website at
If one wonders about the type of horses, one might encounter, Leslie’s smiled and remarked “these aren’t Kentucky Derby horses.”