Recollections of Evan Nord

 

 

“Evan Nord was the answer to a lot of peoples’ prayers.”

 

Evan Nord was my Uncle, my mother’s brother. All who knew him would agree that he was a remarkable man, a quiet presence, a diligent worker and a man that not only cared about, but also cared for his fellow man. He had an extraordinary passion for helping those who were struggling with life, especially if their struggle was from no fault of their own. He had a passion for preserving history for future generations. Today, I want to tell you a few stories about Evan that I hope in a personal way will describe the man that I knew and loved.During the time that my brother David and I were growing up, Evan lived just down the street from us here in Oberlin. He was a bachelor at the time, and was a frequent visitor to our home. He was our favorite guest. It seems that nearly every Saturday morning we would accompany him to “the shop” while he cleaned up a few things and we familiarized ourselves with the sights and considerable smells of a machine shop. We waited anxiously for the candy bar that was always bought for us from that green vending machine in the central building. David had a Baby Ruth; I would get a Clark Bar.

He loved that place. He loved the look of the steel parts. He would show them to us, admire the finishes. He carried this love with him into his restoration projects. While his arrival was always characterized by a storm of activity and plaster dust, his departure left a wake of restored exteriors and interiors decorated with surfaces and appliances of gleaming stainless steel. I think he was born to be a mechanical engineer.

He would join us for part of our annual vacation. He would come to the cottage on Lake Michigan, and be our guest, our pal, our entertainer. He was a central part of some of our best times there. He and my mother were as close as siblings can be. He and my father were the best of friends. He was a part of the family in those days, and I am sure we were one of his few diversions in a period when the work of maintaining a struggling business and starting up a new one were particularly challenging.

He was young then, and he taught us how to wink at the girls (mostly from afar) and mutter “hey babe” (mostly when the car windows were shut) at the cute girls on the sidewalk as he drove by. In spite of this obvious interest, and also in spite of my parents’ diligent efforts to get him (as we boys put it) hitched. Nothing worked. We had many “dinners at the house” where poor Evan was introduced to various single women in what I’m sure were long and difficult evenings. I don’t know how he put up with it.

Then, on the tennis court, he met Cindy and that was the end of that.

Evan married Cindy and adopted her three children Eric, Bruce and Katy as his own. They bought from my father the house in which I grew up, and there he and Cindy had Ethan and Alyson together. Evan, of course, immediately virtually dismantled the place and restored it with great care into the beautiful place that it is today. I visited the house from time to time and while I know that it was full of life, activity, and neighborhood kids when we were there, it seemed even more full of life with their family.

I remember being slack jawed visiting while I was on leave from the Navy. While Evan was great with us when we were kids, there was “no roughhousing.” We sat in the living room and carried on a conversation with kids coming in and out, Alyson hanging from one of Daddy’s arms, dogs barking and running around. It was amazing. I, being a squared away Naval Officer asked, “Evan, how do you put up with this?” His answer, “Put up with what?” This was not the man that I grew up with.

Even though he now had a young and growing family, he did what he always had done, both led and labored to improve the community and help those in need. He became the president of what was by then the Nordson Foundation and with the help of that foundation, his own resources, his family and countless others he helped or started the Oberlin Early Childhood Center, the Oberlin Depot, the Center for Sightless, the old Oberlin Community Center, OHIO, and several of its properties, two community foundations and on and on and on. Like I say, he was indefagable.

Evan was a younger brother, living in the penumbra of a brilliant “older” brother. While I can tell you from experience that this is not a bad thing, it has its own set of tensions and challenges. Evan handled it well and together (along with countless others) he and Eric transformed a struggling machine shop into Nordson, an equipment manufacturing company, that is to this day independent in a time of merger mania and successful beyond what I expect was either of the brothers’ wildest expectations.

I worked there for a time, and in spite of being 25 years his junior, I could never keep up with him. But he was my mentor, my teacher and he was also clairvoyant. It seemed that each and every time I turned off my machine to a adjust something or change a tool, he was there, at my elbow, asking what was wrong. How he knew, I will never know. It couldn’t have been the sound, the din in that place was deafening. I’m sure to this day, it was telepathy.

As time went on, daughter Katy wanted a horse. Just one. Maybe a little one. That little horse would start them on a path that would change their lives, completely. As time went on, he decided to retire from Nordson, while staying on the board until very recently, and move to South Carolina. As time went on, he and Cindy built the most beautiful horse farm that I have ever seen that is now home to dozens of horses and countless show and competition awards. True to form, they take in foundling dogs at the farm with nearly two dozen dogs abandoned by others having found shelter and sustenance at Meadow Ridge Farm. I have been told by one who has been there, that when he passes on, he wants to come back as a Nord dog or a Nord horse. Whatever Evan or his family did, he wanted them to do and be the best.

Even though he moved away from Lorain County in body, he never moved away in spirit. The Nordson board meetings brought him back fairly often, as did foundation work, but often he just came to be with his friends. It would be breakfast at IHOP, golf with old friends, followed by fried perch at the Polish Community Center in Lorain.

He was the first president of the Nord Family Foundation at its conversion in 1987. As its first president, he did a lot to establish and instill the traditions with which that foundation operates today. I illustrate those principles as follows. Every three years, the members of the foundation gather together for a retreat where the trustees report on the projects and progress of the foundation and the members, who give their advice and counsel to the trustees as to what they would like to see the foundation do in the future. Intent. Several years ago, we, the members more or less formally did what we had been doing for some time, informally: We asked the brothers for comment about where they would like to see the foundation go in the future. In the foundation world, they call this “donor intent.”

They were pretty tight lipped. They said very little about the “what” noting that the trustees would be far better informed about community needs at the time of such decisions than they could be now. Evan spoke somewhat more forcefully about the “where.” He wanted to be sure that the foundation continued to apply most of its future efforts in Lorain County.

But Evan was adamant about the “how.” He described in no uncertain terms that he wanted the foundation as an organization and the trustees as individuals to conduct the business of the foundation and relations with grant seekers as he always did, with honesty, unselfishness, forthrightness and always with sensitivity to preserve the dignity of the grantseeker. He wanted us always to view grants not as gifts but as investments, investments in the community.

I will tell you a story that I told at the opening of the headquarters of the foundation at the Sandstone Center in Amherst. Evan gave that building to the foundation for its use and for the use of the community. He dedicated it to the memory of his sister Mary and my father and gave it as an anonymous gift. I was the president of the foundation at the time; it was during a meeting with lawyers and architects that he made his wishes known. I could only smile and say to him: “Sure Evan, a gift this size, to the foundation, to be kept anonymous in Lorain County. Right.”

But he insisted.

I know some of you were there at the dedication of that building, where I told this story, but I believe it is fitting to retell it today. It illustrates what kind of man Evan was.

Evan promised his father, Walter Nord that he, Evan would see to it that a sandstone and historical society was built in Amherst. Walter came to this part of the country to take a job as an engineer in the quarries and wanted to see that sandstone quarry history preserved.

Evan was mulling over where the center could be built, and one night in a dream, he saw the old sandstone Grange Hall on Milan Avenue. He thought that that hall and the surrounding largely vacant property would be ideal for the center he had in mind. He mustered his real estate and legal buddies and wrangled an invitation to the next Grange meeting.

At that meeting, they presented their proposal to the small number of graying heads that represented what was still extant of agriculture in Amherst, Ohio. The proposal was this: He, Evan would buy the Grange Hall, restore it, endow it and make it the centerpiece of the Sandstone Center. They, the Grange members, would have a lease to meet at the property for as long as they liked.

The grey heads huddled, took a vote and accepted the proposal in minutes. They had no concerns as to whether Evan was a man of his word. No one ever had that worry.

After the meeting and on the way out, one of the gentlemen came to Evan personally, shook his hand and thanked him with these words: “Mr. Nord, during our last meeting, we all struggled with the question of how we, the few remaining Grange members, could afford to keep the place going and open. None of us had an answer. So we then had a short prayer meeting to ask God for help. Mr. Nord, you are the answer to our prayer.”

Evan Nord was the answer to a lot of peoples’ prayers.

Evan spent his last days of good health preparing for a gathering of most of his extended family at the farm: It was a board and members meeting of the foundation. He spent his days making sure the place was ship shape, and his evenings looking over the family tree, to make sure he keep all the names of all the children and straight. He fell ill as we gathered. He slept most of the time during his final illness, but he would awaken from time to time. Each of us had a chance to visit him, talk to him and have our hand squeezed in response. He saw most of his family during that final time.

If you can keep a secret, I will tell you that his family smuggled his beloved dog, Pickens, in to see him in the hospital. The little dog sensed that there was trouble and gently snuggled next to him. Evan patted his head one last time. Not long after that, Evan slipped away.

Now he returns to his beloved Lorain County to join his mother, father, his sister Mary, her husband Joe and the first of my generation to pass on, Chip, in the family plot at Westwood.

So all of us can be confident that while not today, it is after all Sunday, a day of rest, but tomorrow, the angels will be organized into work groups. They will be given their assignments and told where to go pick up their tools. Some, but probably not quite enough, instructions will be given about what to do and how to do it. Evan will probably miss a few details, because he will assume that the angels are as smart and knowledgeable about the tasks at hand as he is. Most of them will not be. But he will make it right, by making rounds, visiting each work group and straightening things out as they go along.

They will forge ahead. The tasks may vary, but they will no doubt all fit under the rubric of “let’s clean this place up.” Yes, Evan will find chores in paradise.

Most of the crews will be devoted to the clean-up and fix up, but not all of them. He will organize some other special crews over which he will devote particular attention. These crews will be devoted to helping those—fallen angels. Those crews will be busy helping where they can, inspiring others, and always bringing and keeping humility in their thoughts and demeanor. They will work together and make investments in those who are not so well adjusted to their surroundings.

Early some morning, not long from now, you might find yourself outside, just before dawn. Should that happen, I urge you to look up to the heavens. There you might just see the Morning Star, the brightest star in the sky. Actually, it is not a star, but it is the planet Venus, sort of a younger brother. On that day, you might notice that it somehow looks different. If it does, join me in believing that Evan noticed it too, and saw as a beautiful historic property worthy of care, restoration and preservation. His crews got busy, and like so many properties around us here, it was restored, beautified and burnished for our enjoyment and for the enjoyment of generations to come.

That Venus will be like Evan was when he was among us. Shining brilliantly, full of energy, reflective, and up early in the morning.

All who have known either can not help but be inspired and awed by their light.

by Joseph Ignat
at Evan Nord’s memorial service
Oberlin, Ohio
June 27, 2004