John Benson “Jack” Nordgaard, 88, of Red Wing, died June 7, 2022, at his home.
He was born on April 9, 1954, to Karl Nordgaard ’25 and Anna Nordgaard in Mankato, Minn. He grew up in Decorah, Iowa, where he graduated from high school in 1952. He attended Luther College in Decorah until he was drafted into the Army in 1954. Jack served for two years in Germany.
After his military service, Jack returned to Luther College where he graduated in 1958. It was there that he met Diane Iverson ‘59. They were married on July 18, 1959. Jack and Diane moved to St. Paul, Minn., where he attended Luther Seminary. He finished seminary in 1962. Jack and Diane’s two oldest sons were born in St. Paul, Michael in 1961 and Timothy in 1964. Jack was ordained in July, 1964. Jack’s first call was to Ord, Nebraska, where he was pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church. His third son, Peter was born in 1966. His second call brought him to Chicago in 1967, where he was Pastor at Redeemer Lutheran Church.
While in Chicago, Jack enrolled in a master’s program on inner-city studies at Northwestern University. In 1971 Jack moved to Palatine as Assistant Pastor at Christ Lutheran Church and went to work at Lutheran Social Services Illinois (LSSI). At LSSI, Jack directed a ministry in Uptown Chicago for homeless and addicted people. He then was the director of Prison and Family Ministry, where he created programs to help families visit prisoners and prisoners transition back into society. Jack worked extensively with Habitat for Humanity. He organized the first chapter inside a prison, where Inmates are given a chance to learn skills which could someday lead to a productive job, and their work goes to benefit people in need of housing.
In 1993 Jack received the Raoul Wallenberg Award for Lifetime Humanitarian Services. In a statement by Jan E. Muller, founding president of the Wallenberg Committee of Chicago, “He is considered by many to be the premier grassroots advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. He’s truly a man who has devoted his life to helping others achieve their rightful dignity.” In 1998 he retired, and Jack and Diane moved to Red Wing, Minn. At that time, he received the Lifetime Distinguished Service Award from Luther College. In retirement Jack continued his efforts helping to create programs to assist the homeless. He was also instrumental in founding a free medical clinic in Red Wing for those in need.
Jack is preceded in death by his wife, Diane (Iverson) Nordgaard ‘59; son Peter 88; his parents Karl Nordgaard ‘25 and Ann; and sister Karlyn (Nordgaard) Cross ‘55. He is survived by son Michael Nordgaard ‘83 (Jennifer (Nelson) Nordgaard ’88); grandsons Erik and Luke Nordgaard; son Timothy Nordgaard ‘86 (Barbara Schlender); and many in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews, and lifelong friends who will miss him deeply.
Services were held at United Lutheran Church in Red Wing, Minn., on June 25. Please donate to your local food shelf in Jack’s honor. Online condolences may be sent to mahnfamilyfuneralhome.com.