Ross Jordan was an engineer in every sense of the word: whether it was working on the Apollo space program at Honeywell, coming up with practical but whimsical household inventions with names like the Squirrel Adieux, or engineering weekends of discourse on far-ranging social issues at his familial Cloquet, Minn., farmhouse.
He died Dec. 20 of complications from a fall. He was 92.
He and his wife, Phyllis, rented rooms in their house to African exchange students attending what is now the Dunwoody College of Technology, the first family to integrate their Lowry Hill neighborhood. He walked the “Soul Patrol” in north Minneapolis to help defuse racial tensions in the 1960s. In 1962, he ran unsuccessfully for the Minnesota Senate.
He renovated the family home on Fremont Avenue S. in Minneapolis to include a basement play area that became a magnet for kids in the neighborhood. Included among the attractions was something he labeled the “whoops-a-daisy.” It was a human-sized equivalent of the blowup clown that would keep springing back up, no matter how hard it was punched, pulled or kicked.
Before the days of RVs, he converted an old milk truck into a family vehicle for camping trips, complete with bunk beds and kitchen.
“He was raised during the Depression with a pretty button-down family,” said a daughter, Catherine. “He got it in his head that the rest of his life was going to be much more interesting and more diverse and more playful.”
He was a 1940 graduate of Minneapolis West High School and the University of Minnesota, where he received degrees in aeronautical and mechanical engineering. He served in the Pacific during World War II on the escort carrier Natoma Bay, a highly decorated ship that participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a pivotal naval encounter with the Japanese fleet.
Jordan told his family his work on the Apollo space program was classified, and he rarely talked about it. But Honeywell employees in Minneapolis and Clearwater, Fla., contributed to the program’s stabilization and control systems for Apollo 11, the 1969 mission that landed astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.
After 28 years at Honeywell, Jordan retired to an 80-acre farm in Cloquet, were he remodeled the house into a three-story passive solar home that could accommodate two dozen friends and family on weekend outings.
He built a workshop in his barn where he developed several inventions under his company, MIRCO (Marvelous Ideas by Ross Company). Among the products: the Chopper’s Chum, a device for splitting wood; the Water Wiser, a way to use your hip to turn off water at the sink that also became known as the Hippie; and the Squirrel Adieux, a diabolical but less-than-successful contraption to keep squirrels out of the bird feeder by using a self-cocking mechanism to kick the squirrels out. The thought was always to bring the products to market, but that was never high on the priority list, Catherine said.
There was a serious side to him as well. Longtime friend Ed Galbraith recalled long discussions into the night at the Cloquet home with family and friends, including men’s weekends with open debates about public policy and social issues where all sides were welcomed.
“Ross was constantly anxious to learn, he was a free thinker,” said Galbraith, an attorney who had known him for more than 40 years. “Everything was out there, everything was possible if it could be proven. He was a truth seeker.”
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Phyllis; daughters Catherine V. Jordan and Melanie L. Jordan; sons Chris and Tony; and two grandchildren.
Services have been held.