William Orndorff, 71, yard artist
By MARY LYNN SMITH, Star Tribune
February 29, 2008
A shroud of black covers the much decorated tree stump
in William Orndorff's front yard in St. Louis Park.
Orndorff, creator of the iconic sculpture that grew from neighborhood
novelty to a community conversation piece, died Tuesday of emphysema.
He was 71.
Over the last decade, Orndorff decorated the 5-foot stump to reflect
the change of seasons or the coming of a holiday. Sometimes it became
an artful rant about something that irritated him.
It all started when he had to cut down a tree at the corner of his house
at Morningside Road and Wooddale Avenue. A towering stump remained.
"One day he wrapped it in foil,'' said his wife, Ramona Johnson.
"Who knows why. This was William. You didn't ask. You just had
to wait and see what happened.''
Orndorff was amused that neighbors began to talk: Was it a new-fangled
approach to pest control or a plan to re-energize life in the tree?
"He was so elated that people would project ideas onto it,'' his
wife said. That's what art is about and Orndorff, who always considered
himself something of an artist, was fascinated by that, she said.
He nailed more than a dozen wayward hubcaps to it and called it "Signs
of Spring." Irritated by the cards that drop out of magazines,
he collected a 4-inch stack of them and stapled them to the stump.
If Minnesota went into a deep freeze, the stump was dressed as "Hula
Girl." When the holidays came, a minimalist pumpkin, turkey or
rabbit emerged. The traditional Santa eventually took on a more cubist
look, with the eyes, beard, mittens and belt randomly placed around
Orndorff, born in Fergus Falls and raised in Farmington, retired nine
years ago from Despatch Industries in Lakeville after for 42 years.
His life outside the manufacturing plant was eclectic. He photographed
the urban landscape. He wrote, created a garden that turned heads, rode
his motorcycle until he sold it last fall and regularly worked out at
a health club.
"He was a self-determined man,'' his wife said. Emphysema debilitated
his lungs, but he maintained his physical strength and remained active,
"He was an iconoclast," she said. "He was genuine and
earthy with crusty edges.''
And a free spirit, said his daughter-in-law, Laurene Orndorff. "He
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, David of Apple Valley;
two daughters, Debbie Rodriquez of Idaho and Shelley Kallsen of New
Prague; a brother, Dick of Farmington; sister, Louise Breidel of West
St. Paul, and seven grandchildren.
Services have been held.
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