August 1, 1928 – July 29, 2018
The Oregon Mandolin Orchestra has lost one of its original members, as well as the OMO’s link to American mandolin orchestra history. Bill Jordens, adept at both mandocello and mandolin, died at his Gresham home on July 29 – just three days short of his 90th birthday.
“There are many of us in the orchestra who learned from Bill and shared both music and laughs along the way,” said OMO President Michael Tognetti. “Those of us who played and laughed with him will treasure those moments.”
In 1938, while just 10 years old, Bill joined his father, Harry W. Jordens, and his grandfather, Paul Bruno, to play in the Bonne Amie Musical Circle in Milwaukee, WI. The circle, established in 1900, is the direct predecessor of the Milwaukee Mandolin Orchestra, making that orchestra the world’s longest-continuously performing mandolin ensemble. “I had the last chair and I wasn’t very good,” Jordens told The Oregonian/OregonLive in 2013. “But they still let me play.”
After moving to Oregon, Bill joined the old Portland Mandophonic Orchestra, playing until it disbanded in 2001. He joined the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra when it was established in 2010, leading the mandocello section and providing a strong positive example to others in the ensemble. Health issues forced him to leave the orchestra in early 2017. Throughout the years, however, Bill still played with several of his Portland Mandophonic friends on Saturdays and Tuesdays.
Pam Gurnari, who played with Bill in both orchestras as well as the weekly get-togethers, said he left a lasting impression on everyone. “Bill was a good man -- and a great friend to me,” Gurnari said. Chuck Whitman, another veteran of both orchestras and weekly sessions, said Bill often injected comic relief into OMO rehearsals. His sharp, rapid-fire comebacks to the orchestra’s co-founder and first music director became the stuff of legend. “Bill had a very quick wit,” Whitman said. “Many will remember his responses to many of Brian Oberlin’s comments from the conductor’s stand.”
In addition to playing mandocello with these different groups, Bill forged a successful career as a high school science teacher. Ken Culver, who formerly led the Portland Mandophonic, said Bill joined the orchestra in 1983 after attending a concert in downtown Portland. “He was a superb addition to the Mandophonic,” Culver said. “He was very happy to be playing.” Culver said Bill volunteered to take hand-written scores and feed them through computer programs that made the music more uniform and easily understandable by orchestra members. “He never said a word about it,” Culver said. “He just did it on his own – and it was much appreciated.”
On Sept. 3, 1949, Bill married Margaret Howe in Milwaukee. They soon settled in Northeastern Oregon. They moved to Gresham in 1968, where Bill became a respected educator. Margaret, who worked in retailing, died in 2010. Survivors include their daughters, Mary Lynn Fisher of West Sacramento, CA, Susan Davis and Patricia Jordens of Portland; son, William J. Jordens of Beaverton; eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. on August 7, 2018 at the Gresham Memorial Chapel, 257 S.E. Roberts Ave., followed by a reception.
Last year, the OMO Board of Directors established the Bill Jordens Education Fund to recognize his lifelong commitments to music and education, as well as his contributions to the Oregon Mandolin Orchestra. The Jordens family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the fund or to a nonprofit of your choice to honor Bill.
“Mandolin orchestras definitely made life richer for my father after he retired,” Fisher said. “He loved playing music.”