In Memoriam: Jon Kordon

At the memorial service for Jon Kordon last January, his oldest son Peter remarked that when people offered him their consolation, “They all had a story to tell.”

And these stories are the evidence that a good man lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him.

Jon Kordon was born to Alfred and Tora Kordon in Joliet (Illinois) in 1935; the family moved to Ephraim in 1943 where he attended a one-room school. Jon graduated from Gibraltar High School, the University of Wisconsin, and Marquette University Dental School. He married LaVerne West and began a dental practice in Sister Bay that spanned 44 years as he raised his sons Peter, Eric, Paul, and Andrew who gave him six grandsons.

While these are the basic facts of Jon Kordon’s life, the tales people tell about him reveal a man who touched the lives of people in his family and community. Kaye Wagner of Birch Creek remembers when he was Ephraim’s Fyr Bal Chieftain.

“The day before the sessions began,” she said, “I encouraged the counselors to go to Fyr Bal for fun. Not only did they go, but befriended Jon in his regalia [horned helmet and cloak] and invited him to the concerts.

“About four or five days later they were performing a concert of Scandinavian music. It was a foggy, ethereal night, when all of a sudden, out of the fog emerged Jon in his Scandinavian chieftain outfit!”

Wagner continued, “And that began a long term relationship between Jon and Birch Creek, as shortly after he joined the Board of Trustees and a wonderful friendship followed.”

Kordon served on a number of boards in the community, and he was proud of his own Swedish heritage, which he reflected humorously through the Sven and Ole jokes he told. Kordon’s son Andrew related one of his favorites:

Sven is standing by a fence watching Ole try to get his donkey in the barn, but the tips of the donkey’s ears hit the top of the doorframe and the animal won’t budge. After making a number of futile attempts to solve the dilemma, Ole decided to get his tools and jack up the barn.

“Why don’t you dig a trench through the doorway instead?” Sven asked.

Ole laughed. “Stupid Swede! His ears are too long, not his legs!”

“I remember him laughing so hard he could hardly tell the joke,” Andrew said. “The Swedish accent, playing the parts made it funny rather than the joke itself!”

But Jon Kordon is remembered more for his profession than for his jokes. His wife LaVerne remembers his service in the U.S. Dental Corps. “He took care of the teeth of the poor boys that were headed for Vietnam,” she recalled. “He said some of the boys were more frightened of him than of going to war!

“We returned to Ephraim,” she continued, “because a few old timers kept after us to come to Sister Bay. They were even building him a clinic and would buy used equipment!”

Northern Door Dental Office Manager Celia Manson said, “The man I met some 20-odd years ago when I first started working for Jon is dedicated and kind. Over the years we became a team. I took care of everyday operations, and he took care of the practice. We seldom needed to discuss much. He and I had an unspoken bond that lasted until the end.”

“I liked going to his office for an appointment,” said Pastor Delmar Dahl. “He had daily papers, beautiful art, quiet music, pleasant relationships with his staff – it made for a good dental visit.”

While Kordon made a living as a dentist, he gave back to the community as well. Jill Herlache, who worked for him as a dental hygenist, said, “Jon had a generous heart. He and LaVerne were quiet givers. They were generous in ways that people didn’t know.”

Retired restaurateur Marc Paulson said, “We had a girl who came to work for us, a great waitress, a family to take care of. She had bad teeth. Jon said to send her in. She made money on Jon who gave her back her smile. I don’t think he charged her anything.”

For 11 years Jon and LaVerne Kordon participated in volunteer dental mission trips to rural Jamaica. Herlache, who had worked for Kordon’s dentist friend in Menomonee (Michigan), also took the trips and met the Kordons in Montego Bay during the late 1980s.

“Jamaica was a wonderful experience,” she continued. “We lived and worked at a children’s home, New Vision. The children had been abandoned. We set up a little dental clinic there.” During one week each year, they treated children, the staff, and over time, “thousands of townspeople.”

Kordon’s office and board memberships reflected his interest in the arts, and so did one of his hobbies. Harvey Stahl, his high school classmate and fellow clerk at the old Bay View Grocery in Ephraim, noted “Jon always had wood carvings in his office. He carved, too, and knew I was teaching at the Clearing. ‘We’ve got to get together and carve!’ he said.”

After Kordon retired he spent winters in Florida, sometimes carving on the beach Stahl said. “‘You should come to my house and carve,’ I told him. Fellows came in one day a week mornings. And he came to the house for two summers and did carvings of small birds for his family.”

Jim Parent was a school friend of Peter and “as the years went by, I developed separate and special relationships with each of the four Kordon boys, was accepted by their family and treated like one of their own.” After he became a man and the friends “were spread all over the country, we always found ourselves back together again at the Kordon house for summer barbeques, Christmas get-togethers and the like, always keeping in touch and always renewing the ties.”

While Jon Kordon touched the lives of people who knew him, his most profound impact was on his sons.

Eric and Peter recalled their father’s part in their teenage skiing competitions. “We traveled around the Midwest to ski hills,” Peter said, “and he always made that happen.”

“I remember below zero mornings,” Eric continued, “where he would be the first one up and out trying to start the car, sometimes fighting dead batteries, getting the windows scraped, car loaded and warmed so when the rest of us were ready, we could head to the hill in relative comfort. I remember seeing him bundle up at the hill in his snow pants, boots, jacket, hat, ski goggles covering his glasses to help protect his face, standing for hours at a time assisting with the operations of the race. I see him with that little drop of ice on the tip of his nose, smile of pride and encouragement for each success and struggle I had on the course.”

“My father was simply a very strong even-keeled man,” Paul recalled. “The one thing that ran true for both of us was our love of sports. I do not believe my father was ever much of an athlete. And for a man who was never angry or violent, he also had a love for boxing! Of course his greatest love was the Green Bay Packers.”

When a boy Andrew saw his father’s compassion and selflessness. “In a potentially explosive situation he protected someone who was in an unpleasant relationship with an abusive husband. She came to him, thinking her husband was out to kill her.

“I remember being at home,” Andrew continued, “when the man showed up in his truck. My father confronted him, and the guy left. I realized what courage it took to stand up to the man.”

At the memorial, Peter said, “The legacy he leaves is his shining example of love, care, and support for each other.”