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 the stump.

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, she said.

"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 was brilliant."

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.

© 2008 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.

Orndorff, William D. Age 71, of St. Louis Park, died Tuesday. He turned a tree trunk into iconic art, grew a bountiful garden, photographed trains, rode a Yamaha and lived one day at a time. Survived by wife, Ramona; children, David (Laurene), Debbie (Rene) and Shelley (Matt); siblings, Dick (Pat), Louise (Jerry); and 7 grandkids. Visitation at 6:30 p.m. & service at 7 p.m. Fri., Feb. 29, Cremation Society, 7110 France Av., Edina. Donations: Union Gospel Mission & American Lung Assn.
Published in the Star Tribune from 2/28/2008 - 2/29/2008

Find this page again at www.ojlubke.com in the SUPER INDEX under "Orndorff, William obituary".