Jon Halvorsen

SOUTH PORTLAND – When Jon Halvorsen was diagnosed with leukemia in February, he had already battled multiple myeloma. His doctor said she hoped to give him “two good years.” But the new cancer was brutal, and he died on May 13, 2020, at age 74.His daughter, Darcy, wrote on Facebook: “My beloved father, Jon Halvorsen, lost his valiant battle to acute leukemia and multiple myeloma this morning. My mother and I were at his side as he took his last breath. He was a retired journalist, world traveler, gourmet cook and a scholar of all genres. My mother and I will miss him every day for the rest of our lives. Love you very much, Dad.”It generated 255 comments the first day. More would come in from as far away as Africa and Europe in the days ahead.Jon was born in Minneapolis to Ellen Edgar Halvorsen on September 7, 1945, and grew up there with a sister, Judy. His father, Ted, was in the Navy in the Panama Canal Zone when his son was born.Ted was nearly 40, and he was ready for this child. “Even when I was at my most annoying, he would explain things to me with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of patience,” Jon said after his father died. “After all, he was a teacher for 40 years.”Jon absorbed his Norwegian father’s teaching values as well as his politics: he railed against Nixon, Reagan “and the whole idea of the Republican party.” “Most of all,” Jon recalled, “Dad showed me what love looks like. It came shining through in his devotion to his grandchildren.” And through his mother’s eyes as she sat at the kitchen table with Jon for hours, listening, helping him find his way. He came to learn that “if you felt loved and approved of as a child, that’s really all you need for a good start in life.” So it was that Jon brought to his life grace, patience, compassion and love that he showered not only on his wife Donna and daughter Darcy, but also on the refugees he tutored at McDonald’s in Portland on Sunday mornings; the foreign journalists whom he and Donna hosted at the World Press Institute (WPI) in St. Paul; the children he cared for in a YWCA program; the Portland Press Herald colleagues he stood up for when their livelihoods were threatened; and the many journalists he mentored.”You couldn’t find another editor or friend who would stand up so readily for what was right,” said Sharon Matzek, whom Jon supported when she and Mary Snell were seeking equal pay at the Press Herald. “He suffered professionally because he sided with us.” Press Herald Reporter Bob Keyes said Jon guided him to a feature writing career by giving him an important assignment in his last week as a summer intern. Now Keyes always agrees to work with interns, but this year “my ‘yes’ was far more enthusiastic because of Jon’s memory and honor.”Jon graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis, then went to the University of Minnesota to get a degree in journalism. There he met Donna, who also was pursuing a career in newspapers, and they were married in her hometown of Peterson, Minnesota.After several pit stops around the country, the little family landed in Portland — finally getting it right — in the late 1970s. It struck them as a magical place, and it felt like a final stop. Both worked for the Portland papers. Donna covered courts; Jon was the editor of Audience.Here they discovered the camaraderie of coed softball games, and in fact Jon organized them. He was “the commissioner” who pleaded with these new friends to come to Fort Williams to play ball. Winter “snowball” games were played with an orange ball and a pot of whiskey warming in the dugout. There were other games to be played, too. While Jon was easy-going, “he was also a fine athlete, an avid sports fan and really quite competitive,” said his longtime tennis buddy, Doug Warren. The competitiveness extended to the dining room table where the two played a statistics-driven baseball board game called APBA. “When we found out we both grew up loving APBA, it really cemented our friendship.” Doug said. “Jon was my kind of crazy.”As the editor of Audience, Jon covered Portland Stage, igniting an interest that led him and Donna to see 65 plays in London over the years. He often wrote about Schooner Fare, the legendary folk band whose music etched Maine on their souls. “He made us all better people for having known him,” said band member Steve Romanoff.Strife at the newspaper prompted the couple to return to Minnesota, where Donna’s family lived. Jon was managing editor of the Macalester College alumni magazine and Donna a reporter for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. While there, sadly, all four of their parents died in a two-year period.They found consolation in new friends and the 10 journalists from eight countries they hosted through WPI. Cordelia Onu of Nigeria wondered, when she was chosen in 1999, why she needed “parents.” “I was a mother of three, and I did not see why I would be needing parents.” But she relented and “became a child once again in an American home.””The WPI host parents are a group of very hospitable, dynamic, long-suffering Americans who get to meet and parent an old child from a strange new country every year,” she wrote after Jon’s death. “The host parents stick to you for life. I salute them and the spirit of Jon Halvorsen. He was a great man. He loved and served his country and showcased true Americaness. “While Jon’s career path was in journalism, he was ultimately a teacher. “If you’re really, really lucky, maybe once in your life you’ll work for someone like Jon Halvorsen,” said Jan Shaw-Flamm, longtime Macalester writer. “He cultivated us and taught us with the sort of thoughtful and kind critique that made you burn to dig in, understand more, and write to a higher standard because he knew you were capable of it.”At retirement 13 years ago, Jon and Donna returned to Maine. Darcy was here, and it was the only place to be. On the fifth day, they found an old house with good bones on Meetinghouse Hill.Jon took up rewarding pursuits, teaching refugees and guiding three to citizenship. He took up cooking, read voraciously, practiced his Spanish and studied the baseball box scores. He loved his decade-long editing work for Bates College. He and Donna golfed, listened to Jane Austen on tape, cooked adventurously and looked after each other. Every once in a while, he would say, “Don’t we live in a great place?”They sat across from each other in their recliners, often in their own worlds, their own books, but often crossed the divide. “Did you know that Jesus had a brother, James?” Jon asked. Sometimes these revelations would lead Donna to read the book he was reading, but not this time. It would take a crane to lift Diarmaid MacCullough’s “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years.”They watched lots of baseball (Minnesota Twins, of course), and once, to see whether Donna was paying attention, Jon said: “There’s Socrates (Socrates Brito, of Toronto) in center field. And there’s Plato in right and Aristotle in left.”With his leukemia diagnosis, Jon’s learning was slowed but not entirely stopped. He continued to order used books from independent bookstores around the country. As always, he would smell the pages. They were like a tonic. His tutoring was like a tonic to him, too. One student’s new citizenship allowed him to visit his children in Somalia for the first time in 15 years. “I am so sorry, my heart is sad,” he said. “I hope he is helping angels.” Besides Donna and Darcy, Jon is survived by his sister, Judy Lindberg, and nephew Peter Lindberg, both of New York City; and Donna’s Minnesota family.There will be no services at this time.Memorials may be directed to the South Portland Public Library,482 Broadway,South Portland, 04106, orPortland Adult Education at14 Locust St., Portland 04101

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