Neil R. Jordahl, 77, humanities department chief at Pratt library

March 29, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Neil R. Jordahl, former head of the humanities department of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, died of heart failure Monday at a retirement community in Northfield, Minn. He was 77.

Mr. Jordahl, an erudite scholar who had majored in Greek, Latin and theology, headed the department in the Central Library in downtown Baltimore for 21 years, until retiring in 1994.

Born and raised in Decorah, Iowa, Mr. Jordahl left his studies at Luther College and enlisted in the Navy in 1944. He served as a pharmacist's mate until 1946.

He earned a bachelor's degree in classics in 1948 from Northwestern College in Watertown, Wis., and a master's in library science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1954.

Mr. Jordahl worked for Pratt for two years in the 1950s, before moving to Cambridge, Mass., where he earned a master's degree in divinity in 1957 from the Episcopal Divinity School.

An ordained minister, Mr. Jordahl held various positions at churches in Kentucky and Minnesota and in Baltimore at St. Paul's Episcopal Church before becoming head of Pratt's Humanities Department in 1973.

In addition to overseeing the department that also encompasses philosophy, religion and psychology, Mr. Jordahl was curator of the library's Mencken Collection.

"Neil Jordahl was a learned man who wore his learning lightly. His intellectual interests ranged widely," said Vincent Fitzpatrick III, a Baltimore teacher and author who is current curator of the Mencken Collection. "He was a highly skilled librarian whose expertise and diligence benefited many patrons."

John Sondheim, Pratt manager of planning, praised Mr. Jordahl's many accomplishments during his tenure at the library.

"He was always very certain of himself and was very good for the long view of things. He also brought access and perspective to the Mencken Collection," Mr. Sondheim said.

"He was extremely knowledgeable in both liturgical and religious history," said Ellie Luchinsky, current humanities head.

In addition to his work at Pratt, Mr. Jordahl was a founder and former vice president of the Mencken Society and had been chairman of the library's centennial celebration in 1980 of H.L. Mencken's birth.

His reading interests ranged widely, from English and Norwegian-American history to architecture and hymnology.

Mr. Jordahl, who had resided in Lutherville for many years, lived since 1994 in Northfield.

A memorial service will be held at 5 p.m. April 6 at Epiphany Episcopal Church, 2216 Pot Spring Road, Timonium.

He is survived by his wife of 42 years, the former Helen Beard of Lutherville; a son, David W. Jordahl of Plymouth Meeting, Pa.; a daughter, Sarah J. Goetze of Hot Sulphur Springs, Colo.; a brother, Leigh Jordahl of Decorah; a sister, Ione J. Burgdorf of Edina, Minn.; and six grandchildren.

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