Keith Nordby was leaning toward a career in aviation or law until he got a job in a funeral home during college. He ended up getting a degree in mortuary science and went on to own and operate the Evans-Nordby funeral homes in Osseo and Brooklyn Center for more than 50 years.

Nordby was a leader in the funeral services industry on both the state and national levels, but above all, he was an outstanding mentor, said Tom Weber, who started working with Nordby as a teenager and who now owns and runs the two chapels.

“I am the funeral director I am today because of Keith,” Weber said. “He was very talented. He was very caring for people. He was community oriented. It was a joy to work for him.”

Nordby died Friday of liver cancer at North Ridge Care Center in New Hope. He was 87.

Nordby played trombone at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis, and took his love of music to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. During the waning years of World War II, he trained to become a Navy aviator and attended preflight school in 1945 in Iowa. When the war ended, he enrolled at the University of Minnesota to finish his education.

He had not planned on getting a mortuary science degree until his employer, Swanson Funeral Home, promised him a job.

“He always said that was the best thing that happened to him,” said his son Kent, of Brooklyn Park.

Along with his wife, Charlotte, Nordby taught the trade to scores of mortuary students he hired as interns to help run the facilities he built on 2nd Street in Osseo and Brooklyn Boulevard in Brooklyn Center. He passed on important lessons, too, his son said.

“You have one time to do it right; you can never go back and do it again,” Kent Nordby said. “You want to make sure that one time is perfect. That is how he was.”

Nordby was president of the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association from 1963-64 and twice earned the group’s Distinguished Service Award. He and Charlotte, who died in 2004, were charter members of the North Hennepin Community College Foundation and established the Nordby Lectureship, an annual event that features speakers on topics such as coping with death and dying.

The couple also started a foundation to help with student scholarships and were recognized with a NHCC Presidential Medallion, said Jennifer Summer Lambrecht, executive director of the NHCC Foundation.

“Keith and Charlotte Nordby were longtime friends and supporters of the college,” she said. Their “presence will be truly missed at the college, but their gifts will be forever cherished and memories never forgotten.”

Keith Nordby was a 60-year member of the Osseo Lions Club and was the Brooklyn Park Rotary Club’s Citizen of the year in 1994 and 1997. He was the chairman of the Osseo Bicentennial Celebration, a member of the Osseo American Legion and was chairman of the Brooklyn United Methodist Church’s building program when the new sanctuary was built.

“My dad always said that there is nothing better than somebody who volunteers his time because time is precious,” Kent Nordby recalled. “He was always doing something. Community was very important.”

Services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Brooklyn United Methodist Church, 7200 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Center. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Evans-Nordby Funeral Home, 6000 Brooklyn Blvd., Brooklyn Center, and one hour before services at the church.