Gordon Lee Mennen, World War II veteran, longtime NW Iowa banker, community leader and beloved patriarch of his family, passed away of natural causes on March 21, 2013, five days after his 96th birthday at his winter residence in Bonita Beach, FL. Gordon lived in Milford, IA when not in Florida.
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Gordon was born to Elmer Mennen and Lulu Gertrude (Bryan) Mennen in Lafayette, IN on March 16, 1917. Raised in a farming family, Gordon attended Tippecanoe County country schools and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1935. He went on to study at Purdue University, obtaining a bachelor's degree in Agriculture, with a major in Dairy Technology, in 1941. To fund his education, Gordon held various jobs including gas station attendant, laborer in a refrigerator parts factory, dairy production and development of military food products. A summer job at Armor and Company in Des Moines, IA, garnered more than tuition funds, as it was during the summer of 1939 that he met his future wife, Teresa Helen Harms. His charm and charisma made a strong impression on Teresa, as she was on a date (not with Gordon) when they met. They began talking and never stopped. They were attending the movies during the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Gordon enlisted in the Navy in April, 1942 and he was commissioned as an ensign on March 5, 1943. The following day he wed Teresa at the Thorndike Hilton Chapel on the University of Chicago campus. On March 16, 1943, he reported for active duty to the USS St. Mihiel in Seattle. For eight months he would remain on this vessel whose purpose was to transport troops and military cargo from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands. Following the decommission of this ship, he joined the crew of the USS White Marsh in Oakland, CA remaining until the Japanese surrender and end of the war on September 2, 1945. Although the ship was primarily a landing craft repair vessel, it was an active participant in the battle for the Leyte Islands, Philippines and the Easter attack on Okinawa. Gordon was discharged on November 1, 1945.
He returned to civilian life in Chicago, where he was welcomed by Teresa and their first child, a 15-month-old son, James Gordon, born during his service abroad. The family headed to Tulsa, OK in January, 1946, to escape the cold Midwestern winters. He worked for Carnation company until late 1947, when he honored the request of Henry J. Harms, his father-in-law, to join the family banking business which included ownership of banks in LeMars, Brunsville and Merrill, IA. His family flourished in LeMars and he and Teresa welcomed four more children: Gary Lee, Diane Jan, Mary Sue, and Christopher Alan. Born with Down's Syndrome, Christopher would offer a bright light for the family. Gordon and Chris had a deeply loving and special relationship throughout Gordon's life.
Following his father-in-law's passing in 1954, Gordon was elected President of the LeMars Savings Bank, a position he maintained until 1992. During this time he was a leader amongst his peers and held various positions with the Iowa Bankers Association, Iowa Independent Bankers Association and State Bank Commission of the American Bankers Association. He resigned as President of the bank then called the LeMars Bank and Trust (now known as Primebank) in 1992 to become CEO. Gordon's career in banking would span over half a century. Controlling ownership of the LeMars bank was sold in August, 1998.
Beyond his professional role as banker, Gordon devoted much service to his community and NW Iowa, being a member of many organizations including LeMars Chamber of Commerce, LeMars School Board, Lions Club (50 years), LeMars Development Corporation, Friends of Iowa Public Radio, and St. John's Lutheran Church, serving two terms as President. Gordon and Teresa were co-founders of the Plymouth County Chapter for Mentally Handicapped Children. Gordon was on the Westmar College board for 21 years, receiving an honorary doctorate. He served on the Board of the Siouxland Alzheimer's Association from 1994-2000 in tribute to Teresa who was diagnosed with the disease.
Gordon and Teresa loved to travel both in the United States and abroad. The Greenbrier and Hawaii were favored destinations in this country. They made numerous trips to Europe, Africa and Asia. After Teresa's death, Gordon joined his son, James on trips to Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Portugal and Russia, among other locales. His ability to tell an amusing anecdote made him a popular addition at many a dining table.
In 1996, after 53 years of marriage, Teresa Mennen passed on as a result of complications of Alzheimer's. In 1999, Gordon moved his permanent residence to his lake home on Lake Okoboji, IA. He became an active member of First Lutheran Church in Milford, IA and offered his time and talents to the Development Committee during the planning and construction of its new edifice, which was dedicated in 2006. He was a loyal support of the Ingham-Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp throughout his life. He also maintained an active social life around the lakes area including a weekly men's Bible study class, Siouxland Rotary, season ticket holder for the Okoboji Summer Theatre, member of the Pierson Arts Center, member of the Okoboji Protective Association and a participant at a weekly lunch at the Dry Dock, a favorite spot on the lake, with several longtime friends.
Gordon was a bright and steady light in his professional and personal life. He was a wise and thoughtful man, careful in making decisions and strong in conviction. He had a steadfast work ethic, and was a leader in his profession and community. His generosity affected innumerable lives. He was immensely curious, always learning and willing to advise. In addition, he was kind, gentle and pure of heart. His charming sense of humor remained all the days of his life. He was guided by his Christian faith and unwavering love of the Lord. He was admired and loved by those who had the privilege to call him son, husband, brother, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, uncle or friend. Gordon is a true example of the resounding, sustaining impact that a humble man may have through his life.
In addition to his wife and parents, he was preceded in death by his brothers, Kenneth of Springfield, KY and Robert of Lafayette, IN.
Gordon is survived by his adoring children: James Mennen and partner Joseph A Palumbo: Gary Mennen and wife, Lynette Kelsey Mennen; Diane Maresh and husband, Dr. John Maresh, Mary Sue Moore and husband, Dr. Stephen Moore and Christopher Mennen; his grateful grandchildren, Amanda Maresh Honey, (husband, Kevin and children, Payton, Cambell, and Ty James), Nikole Maresh Roth (husband, Aaron and children, Laiken, Noelle, Ashton and Ryder), Leigh Maresh Roth (husband, Carl and children, Parker and Wesleigh), John Maresh Jr. (wife, Courtney), Jeffrey Moore, Dr. Kelly Moore, Lissa Kelsey Lecy (husband, Michael) and Landon Kelsey; many nieces and nephews and other extended family members; and a full lifetime of friends.
Plans for interment of ashes and celebration of life services are pending, but will take place in Iowa early summer. Further information will be published in local newspapers. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the following charities, Life Skills Foundation, POB 1506, LeMars, IA 51031, Village Northwest Unlimited, 330 Village Circle, Sheldon, IA 51201,
Ingham Okoboji Lutheran Bible Camp (IOLBC), 1203 Inwan Street, Milford, IA 51351,
, 7272 Greenville Avenue, Dallas, TX 75231 or a
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Published in Des Moines Register from Mar. 24 to Mar. 25, 2013