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Benefield: Everybody loved legendary North Bay bandleader Sid Gordon. Here are a few reasons why

On this 95th birthday last month, Sid Gordon told me two things sustained him and kept him going deep into his ninth decade on earth: Music and his family.

The column was about a longtime senior musical group, New Horizons Band of Sonoma County, celebrating Gordon’s birthday by giving him yet another moment at the conductor’s stand, leading the band he so adored.

Gordon led the group through Beatles tunes and some Christmas carols. Everyone ate cake. There was laughter. It was a room full of warmth and love.

Gordon felt it.

A lifelong music teacher, conductor and player, Gordon said at his advanced age, joining with others in song gave him purpose and joy and a reason for being.

And his family’s love made him feel whole.

Last Thursday, on Jan. 13, after 95 years and 37 days of a life well lived, the music went quiet for Gordon.

With Betty, his wife of more than seven decades, holding his hand and his four daughters at his side, Gordon died in his Rohnert Park home.

That Gordon was celebrated — for his gifts as a bandleader, musician and friend — when he was alive and able to (thoroughly) enjoy it just a month ago seems a gift too priceless for words.

Gordon, too, felt nearly speechless on that day. Nearly.

“It’s because of you and my family that I’m here, so it’s your fault,” he told the group to warm applause and laughter. “Anything I say is going to sound trite, and it isn’t. I just don’t know what … thank you. Thank you for everything.”

Sid Gordon was born Sidney Gimovsky on Dec. 7, 1926, in St. Louis, the middle of three children born to Russian émigrés Bessie and Louis Gimovsky.

Gordon, whose family moved to San Francisco when he was four, thereafter considered himself a native Californian, Betty Gordon said. The family changed their name to the more America-sounding Gordon when Sid was a teen.

After graduating from Washington High School, Gordon enlisted in the Navy.

As he made his way through naval training, World War II continued to rage. But for Gordon, who was in San Diego on the eve of departure to a far off theater of battle, the timing was perfect.

“He was on a ship and the ship was due to leave, I don’t know to where, but they canceled it because the war ended,” Betty Gordon said.

His service included being stationed in the Philippines, where he was a signalman, using lights and code to guide ships coming in and out of the harbor, Betty Gordon said.

When he left the Navy, he enrolled at San Francisco State College (“It wasn’t called San Francisco State University then,” Betty said) where he studied art and music.

It was in a choir class that he met Betty Thatcher.

“He was just another guy in the class. I wasn’t drawn immediately,” Betty said with a laugh.

It was on a bus ride home from a holiday concert at Hamilton Air Force Base that Sid Gordon and Betty Thatcher became a pair.

“We had a group of people that were students and we were all good friends and music majors. We rode separately going up but on the way back I managed to get a seat next to him and that did it,” she said. “We went around together the last two years” of college.

They were married in Thatcher’s childhood home in Oakland on Dec. 23, 1950.

The pair moved north when Gordon got a job teaching in Weed, then moved to Healdsburg where he taught music for about five years. It was during that period that both Sid and Betty played with the Santa Rosa Symphony.

Sid took a job at Redwood High School in Larkspur where he stayed for the next three decades. He taught music and band and led student musicians in the school’s theatrical productions.

He was born to teach, said his daughter, Laura Hatfield of Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri.

“We all enjoyed going to the concerts,” she said. “He had a way. It was very apparent to me, even as a young child, that he could reach a crowd. It came naturally. Everybody loved him.”

Gordon retired in the mid-1980s but couldn’t stay away from music. He began teaching at the College of Marin before the Gordons moved to Santa Rosa in 1994.

In 2017, they lost their home and almost every worldly possession they shared in the Tubbs fire.

After a few short stops, they made a new home in an apartment in Rohnert Park.

Throughout their marriage, the Gordons loved to travel. They took their four daughters on cross-country car camping trips. Gordon had visited all 50 states in the U.S.

Sid Gordon was always an artist and an avid painter. Before one trip to Europe, Sid and Betty did research not only about impressionist painters and where they lived, but they scouted exactly where paintings were created so they could see the settings for themselves.

The pair were perennially active: History groups, social groups, music groups — they were constantly on the go, Hatfield said.

“I’d try to call and it was ‘Oh, I’m just going out the door.’ Every day, they’d have something going,” she said.

And on Tuesdays it was always music. For more than two decades, Sid Gordon played and conducted with the New Horizons group.

It was a group of friends and fellow musicians that fed his soul.

About 10 days after New Horizons musicians threw Gordon his birthday party, he was admitted to the hospital. He had fluid in his lungs and his kidneys had begun to fail.

Gordon came home Dec. 26.

On Thursday, Jan. 13, he hadn’t been alert for at least a day, Hatfield said. His breathing was labored.

With Betty holding his hand and his four daughters there, Betty told Sid: “I love you and we are all here. I know it’s time for you to go. It’s OK.”

Hatfield said her dad died the way he had lived, holding her mom’s hand.

“When mom was talking to him he opened his eyes and looked at her. The bond, it was so beautiful the way he was looking at her,” she said. “She said, ‘You are doing a great job.’ It’s what he needed to hear. He got enough energy to open his eyes and look at her and go.”

In addition to his wife, Betty, and daughter Laura, Gordon is survived by daughters Gail Gordon Gaskin of Guerneville, Judy Drobny of Orangevale, Linda Gebhard of the Netherlands; and six grandchildren.

Donations in Gordon’s name may be made to New Horizons Band of Sonoma County, c/o Treasurer Brian Sublett, 6811 Gardner Ranch Road, Santa Rosa, Ca. 95404.

Services are pending.

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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