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Gordon, Zach

by Renee Guerin Blood

Cadmus Zaccheus Gordon was born in Brookville, Pennsylvania, in 1897. He died in Juneau, July 11, 1977. He attended Andover, was Phi Beta Kapa at Yale and took his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. While practicing corporate law in Philadelphia, he became active with the Big Brother program, the Seamen’s Church Institute, and other movements that assisted the underprivileged.

When World War II began, Zach joined the United Service Organization and in 1943, arrived in Juneau to direct the USO Club. In a ramshackle building downtown, Zach was host to hundreds of servicemen stationed here as well as those en route to other war zones. after the war, he offered to remain in Juneau for six months if the community would agree to the transition of USO facilities into a club for teenagers. The community took him up on his offer and the Teen Age Club of Juneau was born.

Zach stayed on and in those early years did everything virtually alone. He was Club director, janitor, fund- raiser, confidante, counsel, teacher, surrogate parent and friend. He made fudge and hamburgers, taught youngsters how to play pool and ping pong. He passed out quarters for the juke box so that everyone would have an opportunity to play a favorite song whether they had money or not. He swore he got them all back at the end of the evening. Zach always wore a suit, vest and tie. He defined the term “gentleman” with his courtly manners and his gentle insistence on an ethical approach to any game or problem.

Zach envisioned a “home away from home” for teenagers and provided it until his death. He attended school functions and never missed a basketball game. His family of young people received gifts or salutations on graduations, weddings, birthdays, opening nights and memorable moments made more so by Zach’s remembering. . .long after their teenage years ended. There is no official record of the number of deserving college-bound youngsters for whom Zach quietly arranged financial assistance.

Zach was without prejudice at a time when racial bias was tolerated in this area. Zach’s teenagers, whatever their origins, were welcome at their second home.

Under Zach’s stewardship the Club sponsored a Teenage Toastmasters group, weekly radio programs, discussion groups, tournaments and recreation. The Club adopted foster children, helped with fund drives and held dances for worthy causes.

Through the years, Zach received many awards and citations. Alaska’s governor proclaimed May 22, 1973, as “Zach Gordon Day.” The Rotary Club presented him with the prestigious Paul Harris Fellowship. But Zach’s greatest source of pride were the teenagers he saw grow and develop into contributing adults. His small office was a picture gallery of young people from S. E. Alaska who went on to work in the arts, sciences, business, sports, law.

Following his death, the Teenage Club was renamed in his honor. But what is now the Zach Gordon Youth Center would never have been built without the continued generosity of Zach’s friends back east. He was a tireless fund-raiser for his dream, though he himself lived simply in one room. Zach Gordon was born into a life of privilege and devoted to a life of service.

Zach gave many speeches during his thirty-four years among us. Often these speeches began “I believe...” He believed in the basic goodness of the human spirit and was never embarrassed to say so. “I believe in teenagers...I believe in them because among a wide variety of reasons, they are gifted with so much to contribute to the rest of much that is beautiful and wise.”

“I believe in good will and I believe in practicing it.” Zach Gordon was a man who lived his philosophy.

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