He never lost his strong love for his hometown, St. Paul, and did much to improve its economic and cultural life.
John G. Ordway Jr., a businessman who played a strong role in a number of Twin Cities civic and educational ventures, died of natural causes Wednesday at his Wayzata home. Ordway, known as "Smokey" to friends and relatives, was 89, and also had a home in Jupiter Island, Fla.
He was born in St. Paul, the youngest of five children of John G. Ordway and Charlotte Partridge Ordway, said his son John G. Ordway III of Mahtomedi. His grandfather, Lucius Pond Ordway, was an early investor in Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (now the 3M Corp.).
Smokey Ordway attended St. Paul Academy through his freshman year, then transferred to and graduated from St. Paul's School, a boarding school in Concord, N.H.
His further education at Yale University was interrupted by World War II. For two years, he served as a fighter pilot, running Corsair bombing missions off the aircraft carrier Hancock in the Pacific.
After the war and graduation from Yale, he returned to Minnesota, married and plunged into a 40-year career at St. Paul's MacArthur Co., which distributes materials for construction projects.
He also put his skills and money to work in many "commitments and causes" that enhanced life and culture in the Twin Cities, his son said.
After his sister, Sally Ordway Irvine, conceived of and helped bring to fruition St. Paul's Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, he was an influential supporter behind the scenes, helping with fundraising and serving on the theater's board for 25 years.
"He was raised with the arts -- every Sunday when he was growing up, his family would have a music concert at his house or a neighbor's," his son said. "But I think the real reason he did this was for St. Paul -- he loved the city so much."
Ordway "was a hugely important force in bringing Sally's initial vision to reality," the center's president, Patricia Mitchell, said. "He was smart, funny, generous and dedicated."
He also served as trustee and chairman of the University of Minnesota Foundation. In the 1970s, he raised money to designate top faculty members as regents professors.
A fine hockey player in high school and at Yale, Ordway was one of eight founding owners of the Minnesota North Stars in 1967.
He also served on 3M's board and the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and was a founding board member of Minnesota Outward Bound.
Despite his success and privilege, "the first word that comes to mind when I think of my dad is 'humble,'" John III said. "He was smart and generous, very gracious, a true gentleman."
When not working, Ordway loved to race sailboats, hunt for duck and grouse, and travel, his son said.
In addition to John III, Ordway is survived by his wife of 65 years, Margaret; another son, Philip of Long Lake; a daughter, Strandy Quesada, of South Freeport, Maine; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services will be private.
Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290