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John T. ‘Jack’ Ordeman, headmaster of St. Paul’s School for two decades, dies

Obit: John T. Ordeman - Original Credit: Handout
Obit: John T. Ordeman - Original Credit: Handout (Handout / HANDOUT)

John T. “Jack” Ordeman, a progressive educator who as headmaster of St. Paul’s School for two decades successfully integrated the Brooklandville private school and introduced the parallel program, died July 20 from prostate cancer at the Augsburg Village retirement community in Lochearn. He was 90.

“As a person, Jack was intelligent, open-minded, progressive, very caring and unpretentious,” said Michal Makarovich, a Hampden resident who taught math, journalism and filmmaking for 21 years at St. Paul’s before retiring in 1994.

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“At a time in the mid-1980s, heads of school became fundraisers and Jack was no slick schmoozer when it came to fundraising, and we liked what he brought to our school’s community,” said Mr. Makarovich, owner of Hampden Junque. “Through it all, he was a person who just loved being a teacher. Fundraising was simply not his forte.”

“He cared tremendously about kids — all kids — and since the school announced Jack’s death there have been so many Facebook postings from former students who wrote that ‘had it not been for Mr. Ordeman and the parallel program, I wouldn’t have become the person I am.‘ They were indebted to him,” said Howard Schindler of Fallston, who has been at St. Paul’s for 45 years and is currently head of the Upper School.

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John Talbot Ordeman, son of Charles Lee Ordeman, treasurer of the Mead Paper Co., and his wife, Elizabeth Burne Ordeman, a homemaker, was born in Huntington, Long Island, New York, and spent his early years there before moving to Westport, Connecticut.

After graduating in 1948 from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1952 from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He also held master’s degrees in English, which he earned from Columbia University in 1960, and in education, from the Johns Hopkins University in 1969.

He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1952 and rose to commander of Charlie Company, Third Marine Division, and was discharged with the rank of captain in 1960 from the Marine Corps Reserve.

In 1958, Mr. Ordeman married the former Mary Elizabeth Duthie, a studio art teacher and a native of Halstead, Kent, England.

Mr. Ordeman began his academic career in 1956 at the Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia, teaching English and arts history, and in 1960 was named assistant headmaster.

An advocate for integration and a trailblazer, it was Mr. Ordeman who brought the first Black public speaker to campus when he invited John T. Walker, the first African American to be admitted to Virginia Theological Seminary and later bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, to address the students.

When he decided he wanted to become a head of school, he was recruited by several schools in the South, but he terminated negotiations when he discovered they did not share his views on racial matters.

When he was recruited to replace St. Paul’s headmaster, S. Atherton Middleton, who was retiring, he made it a condition of his acceptance that the school begin the process of integration, which it initiated, and later during his tenure as headmaster recruited the first African American to its board of trustees.

At St. Paul’s, he lived on campus. In addition to his duties as headmaster, he taught English and art history and, according to his resume, “occasionally coached football and lacrosse.” He was also a trustee and and a member of board committees.

“He also worked to diversify the school intellectually, promoting a somewhat controversial program by which gifted kids with learning disabilities could attend St. Paul’s Lower School, learning in parallel and then later mainstreaming with their classmates when older,” his son, Donald Lee Ordeman of Washington, wrote in a biographical profile of his father. “He was also head of the Maryland chapter of the Orton Society, which advocates for dyslexics.”

“Jack thought it was important to have a program like the parallel program that could help students with their academic firepower and skills,” Mr. Schindler said. “He was the consummate educator who could attend to the differences in students, plus he was a lifelong learner.”

Charles W. Mitchell, a Sparks resident, historian and author who graduated from St. Paul’s in 1973, is now the school’s director of alumni relations.

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“Jack was known for commenting on every boy’s report card, along with his adviser. On my very first one, as a new sixth-grader, he described my perfectly mediocre grades as ‘off to a good start,’ ” Mr. Mitchell said. “Forty years later, as St. Paul’s made Jack an honorary alumnus of the school — we have very few of those — I held up my report card before the crowd and thanked Jack for ’helping me get off to a good start.’ ”

Mr. Ordeman enjoyed attending athletic events at the school.

“When he watched athletic events he was focused and intense,” Mr. Schindler recalled. “You could hear him loud and clear from the sidelines.”

Mr. Ordeman was extremely tolerant and supportive of the school’s student-operated newspaper and student-produced films, which at times tackled controversial subjects.

“Jack would say, ’What you say we allow and we encourage?’ ” said Mr. Makarovich, who was the newspaper’s adviser. “He truly believed in the freedom of expression.”

After leaving St. Paul’s in 1985, he was headmaster and an English teacher for four years at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was interim headmaster and taught English for a year at Kerr-Vance Academy in Henderson, North Carolina, and in 1990 was named headmaster at Broadwater Academy in Exmore, Virginia, and after retiring in 1994, remained at the school, where he taught English for a year and was a substitute teacher.

Mr. Ordeman and his wife lived in Nassawadox on the Eastern Shore of Virginia before moving to Augsburg Village a decade ago.

“Upon retirement, he threw himself into community enterprises, running charitable and civic nonprofits, and advocating environmental stewardship, helping to conduct the census and serving on the Nassawadox town council,” his son wrote.

While he was turned down for membership in the NAACP, he worked closely with the organization because he believed that social justice and environmental issues were linked together, and for his work, was honored at the 2014 Martin Luther King Day Unity Breakfast.

He was also actively involved with Citizens for a Better Eastern Shore and served as president of the Eastern shore’s Own Arts Center, Virginia Eastern ShoreKeeper and the Exmore Rotary Club. He was a communicant and senior warden at Hungars Episcopal Church in Machipongo, Virginia.

Plans for a memorial service to be held in the chapel at St. Paul’s School are incomplete.

In addition to his son and wife of 62 years, Mr. Ordeman is survived by three daughters, Jennifer Ordeman Harbold of Charles Village, Jessica Ordeman Foster of Dover, New Hampshire, and Elizabeth Ordeman “Liz” Blizzard of Ilkley, Yorkshire, England; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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