Tony Jordan didn’t just provide homes to people with autism and developmental disabilities. He provided a sense of family.

For more than two decades, Jordan and his wife, Jeannie, have operated group residential homes in the northern Twin Cities metro area, giving 24 adults with disabilities a place to grow, develop friendships and feel safe.

“They loved him and adored him because he adored them,” said longtime friend Kathy Sosniecki.

But earlier this month, residents had to deal with crushing news: Jordan, 62, of Shoreview, died June 1 of an apparent heart attack.

“A few of [the residents] began marking the calendar,” Sosniecki said. “They wanted to know when Tony was coming back from heaven.”

Jordan, who studied anthropology and sociology at the University of Minnesota, eventually earned a degree in special education, following in the footsteps of his mother, who taught students with special needs in District 916.

Jordan was a natural in the way he worked with people with disabilities, said Jeannie Jordan, who was a teaching assistant to Jordan’s mother when she met Tony. “It takes a different type of person — someone with empathy, compassion and patience,” she said. “He looked at a person’s ability and not their disability.”

Jordan worked with students with emotional behavioral disabilities for about five years in District 916 when he and his wife started their own business, Enrich, and opened their first group home in 1990.

As more families approached them, they eventually opened six more group homes. In addition, two men with autism have lived with the Jordans for the last 30 years.

“We could see we could make a difference,” Jeannie Jordan said. “We have some who could hardly talk at all and are talking. Others had behavior issues and a lot of that is gone. They are productive, happy individuals.”

It’s a job that Jordan’s brother, Chris, of White Bear Lake, can’t imagine doing. “It’s 24/7. Sometimes it’s not pretty and requires a lot of personal commitment,” he said.

But Jeannie Jordan said her husband never viewed it as work, always telling people he was retired. “He took everything in stride and with such joy. He loved it.”

This was a guy who idolized Jiminy Cricket. “He was a dreamer,” said Jeannie Jordan. “He was kidlike all his life.”

At 6-feet, 2-inches, he earned the nickname Bean, never owned a cellphone, wore the same sweatshirt to his twice-weekly racquetball games and was a vegetarian who loved cake, ice cream and vegetables.

And he loved nature, influenced in part by his uncle, nature photographer Les Blacklock, said his sister, Catherine Jordan of Minneapolis. He hiked, paddled the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and converted some of his homes’ lawns into native prairie grasslands in a commitment to care for the Earth.

“He was Mr. Sensitivo, reckless, crazy. A coyote,” Catherine Jordan said. “He was playful, madcap and could throw all caution to the wind. He lived fully and hard and he made life a party for everybody.”

His bellowing laugh drew people in.

“At my high school basketball games, he would obnoxiously clap and cheer,” said his nephew, Tommy Monahan. “It wouldn’t even be for anything important. He just wanted to be there for me. … His charisma rubbed off on me. He gave me confidence to talk to anyone. … He’s someone I strive to be like.”

Jordan is also survived by a daughter, Caitlin Jordan of Shoreview; son, Ryan of Jersey City, N.J.; mother, Phyllis of Minneapolis; and sister, Melanie Jordan of Minneapolis. Services have been held.