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Donald Westby Gjerdrum


Mon, Sep 24th, 2012
Posted in Mabel Obituaries

Donald Westby Gjerdrum was born July 25, 1921, to John Bernard and Mildred (Westby) Gjerdrum at their farm north of Mabel, Minnesota. He died September 21, 2012, at Gunderson Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, at the age of 91 years. Don attended elementary school at the little brick schoolhouse that still stands within sight of the Gjerdrum farm. He is a graduate of Mabel High School and Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and received a M. Ed. in Music from the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

Don was proud of his service in the Navy. Following his graduation from Luther College in the spring of 1943, he received three months of officer training at Columbia University in New York City and was commissioned on July 28. He participated in the invasion at Salerno, Italy, aboard an LST (Landing Ship Tank), as well as the D-Day invasion of Normandy at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. He spent three months in Hong Kong, China, working with a British marine commando to assist in the LST transport of the remnants of Chiang Kei Shek's Nationalist First Army from Hong Kong to North China. He was discharged from the Navy in June, 1946. His years in the service left him with a lifelong love of travel and an interest in the whole world.

Following his service in the Navy, Don enjoyed a rewarding career in high school music. he was a greatly respected band director and educator, and was also appreciated for his fine clarinet playing. He continued playing his clarinet into his 90th year. We have a sweet video of him playing a clarinet/piano duet in 2010 with his step granddaughter, Klara (then age 6), and in the summer of 2011 for his 90th birthday, we celebrated at the Gjerdrum farm with a "Band on the Lawn" afternoon. Don, family, friends and musicians, including fellow band directors, enjoyed playing music obtained from the Chatfield Brass Band and Music Lending Library in Chatfield, Minnesota.

His career as a band director began in Independence, Wisconsin, where he taught for two years and also met and married Doris Mae Olson on June 18, 1948. After leaving Independence, he became an instructor in the reed section of the Luther College Band. From 1950 to 1956 he continued on as a part time instructor at Luther, where he taught woodwinds, band management, and directed the Varsity Band for two years. In 1953 Don became director of bands in Spring Grove, Minnesota, where he taught until 1967. Between 1953 and 1959 the number of students in the Spring Grove instrumental program rose from 47 students to 180 students. Bruce Larson of Luther College recently turned into CDs a live recorded LP made by Tom Jones in 1959 of the music the band played that year at the Music Educators National Conference in Chicago, and these CDs are gradually being given away to musicians that were in that band and to family and friends. On September 15th of this year, at the 50th reunion of the class of 1962 that was held at the Hotel Winneshiek in Decorah, Iowa, two members of that band, Judy Ruehmann and Jeff Roverud, had the British Eighth March from that CD fed into the sound system of the hotel to honor him, and he just loved that they did that for him.

In 1968, after a year of graduate school in Grand forks, Don accepted a position to direct the bands in Burnsville, Minnesota. He enjoyed his fifteen years there very much. He expanded the program, took the band on a European tour, and also served as President of the Minnesota Music Educators Association during this time. At the Luther College Homecoming in 1973, he received the Carlo A. Sperati award in recognition of meritorious achievement in the field of music.

Don and Doris retired in 1983 and moved to the Gjerdrum farm. They enjoyed their life in the country and being in the Mabel area. Their four children, Mary, Sara, Dorothy and David, always treasured coming to the farm to visit them. Doris died in 1993. Don married Linda Swenson Kjome on December 26, 1994, and they have been fortunate to have had almost 18 years together. Don is survived by his wife, Linda; children: Mary (Tom) Holman (Ghana, West Africa); Sara (Charles Olson) Gjerdrum (St. Paul, MN); Dorothy Gjerdrum (St. Paul, MN); David (Karine Cantin) Gjerdrum (Minneapolis, MN); stepchildren: Peter Kjome (Grand Rapids, MI); Kristin (Jonathon Fischer) Kjome (Portland, OR); Kari Kjome (Portland, OR); Catherine Kjome (New York City); grandchildren: Maria, Zinash and Aklilu Gjerdrum, Kalkidan and Bereket Olson (all of St. Paul, MN); two step granddaughters, Klara and Elinor Kjome Fischer (Portland OR). Don is also survived by a wonderful extended family and a wide circle of friends. He was preceded in death by his parents, sisters Pauline Overland and Karen Myhre, and his first wife, Doris.

Don was a faithful member of Scheie Lutheran Church in rural Mabel and a funeral service will be held there at 2 pm on Saturday, September 29, with visitation one hour prior to the service. Mengis Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements. Memorials are suggested to Wycliffe Bible Translators in support of Mary and Tom Holman, the Gunderson Lutheran Hospice, or to Scheie Lutheran Church.

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