DeKALB – Gordon William Bird, 99, of DeKalb, Illinois, died Monday, June 16, 2014, at Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center in DeKalb.
Born July 24, 1914, in Fairmont, Minnesota, to Alexander W. Bird and Olive Clark, he married Topaz Riles on Dec. 13, 1938, in Des Moines, Iowa, while director of bands at Drake University.
He was a professor of trumpet, department head and director of bands for 18 years. He helped produce the Drake Relays programs and developed the mass band performance, including a jubilee performance that included more than 60 Iowa high school bands. He worked with former President Ronald Reagan, who was a local radio announcer. While there, he was president of the Central Iowa Bandmasters Association and president of the Iowa Music Educators Association. He also served on the board of directors of the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra.
Dr. Bird joined the Northern Illinois University faculty as professor of music and director of bands in 1960. While at NIU, Dr. Bird developed a varied program for the university bands, including the Marching Huskies, which performed at all home football games; the NIU Concert Band; and the NIU Varsity Band. In addition to campus performances, the NIU Concert Band conducted tours, off-campus programs and a highly regarded summer Band Camp for teaching and recruiting high school students.
After retiring from the music department in 1983, Dr. Bird was associate director of the NIU Extension Division for several years.
For six years prior to joining the NIU music faculty, Dr. Bird was sales and advertising executive for the Monroe Company in Colfax, Iowa. He returned to teaching at NIU where he became president of the 10-state North Central Division of the College Band Directors National Association with NIU serving as host school for one of the group's conventions. He also was elected president of the Illinois Music Educators Association, making him one of the few men to have held this top professional post in two states.
His educational background includes a bachelor's degree from Drake University, a Master of Music degree from Northwestern University
, and a Doctor of Education degree from Columbia University Teachers College. His record as a performer, conductor and guest specialist has taken him to stages and podiums across the nation and into the international music world. During 1971, Dr. Bird was invited to conduct the All-State Band of Hawaii and to serve on a panel of judges at the first International Festival of University Bands in London, England. As a trumpeter, he has played professionally in symphonies, theater, concert, radio and dance bands.
Dr. Bird was a regular guest conductor of the DeKalb Municipal Band and played trumpet in the group for many years. In 1946, he was one of the first conductors of the Des Moines Municipal Band's summer, "Music under the Stars," and at age 91 was invited back as a guest conductor for the 60th anniversary. He joined the trumpet section on the steps of the State Capitol Building for many years.
During World War II
, Sgt. Bird was leading Air Force bands in New Mexico and Texas in a variety of settings from base dances, parades and orchestral repertoire for special events. He was discharged in 1946 after four years of service.
He was a longtime member of DeKalb Rotary Club
and was a past president of the group. He also belonged to the Masons, the Shriners, and played with the Shrinanigans "Big Band" touring group.
He was a member of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ in DeKalb.
After retirement, Dr. Bird served in the 1987 Senior Citizen Intern program for then Congressman Dennis Hastert in Washington, D.C. Recently he was honored by the NIU chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, professional music fraternity, with a 50-year plus pin. He was initiated in 1933.
He is survived by his daughter, Carol (Richard) McKay, of Vienna, Virginia; two grandchildren, Alexandra and Nicholas McKay, both of Vienna; and several nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Topaz (Riles) Bird; parents; and a sister, Ruth Serle.
A memorial service will be held on his 100th birthday, Thursday, July 24, at 11 a.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ in DeKalb with Pastor Joseph Gastiger officiating. Visitation will be held from 9 a.m. July 24, until the time of the service. Burial will be at 11 a.m. Friday, June 27, at Lakeside Cemetery in Fairmont, Minnesota. Residents of Oak Crest will celebrate his life in a service at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, June 22.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the Good Samaritan Fund at Oak Crest DeKalb Area Retirement Center, the
or the Palmer Family Music Education Scholarship Fund.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Ronan-Moore-Finch Funeral Home, 310 Oak St., DeKalb, IL 60115; 815-758-3841.