DEKALB, Ill. - Gordon William Bird, 99, of DeKalb, Ill., died Monday, June 16, 2014, at Oak CrestDeKalb Area Retirement Center in DeKalb, Ill. Burial will be 11 a.m. Friday, June 27, in Lakeside Cemetery, Fairmont.
He was born July 24, 1914, in Fairmont, Minn., to Alexander W. Bird and Olive Clark.
He married Topaz Riles on Dec. 13, 1938, in Des Moines, Iowa, while Director of Bands at Drake University. He was a professor of trumpet, Department Head and Director of Bands for 18 years. He helped produce the Drake Relays programs and developed the mass band performance, including a jubilee performance that included more than 60 Iowa high school bands. He worked with former President Ronald Reagan, who was a local radio announcer. While there, he was President of the Central Iowa Bandmasters Association and president of the Iowa Music Educators Association. He also served on the board of directors of the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Bird joined the Northern Illinois University faculty as Professor of Music and Director of Bands in 1960. After retiring from the music department in 1983, Dr. Bird was associate director of the NIU Extension Division for several years. For six years prior to joining the NIU music faculty, Dr. Bird was sales and advertising executive for the Monroe Company in Colfax, Iowa. His educational background includes a bachelor's degree from Drake University, a Master of Music degree from Northwestern University, and a Doctor of Education degree from Columbia University Teachers College. His record as a performer, conductor and guest specialist has taken him to stages and podiums across the nation and into the international music world. As a trumpeter, he has played professionally in symphonies, theater, concert, radio and dance bands. Dr. Bird was a regular guest conductor of the DeKalb Municipal Band and played trumpet in the group for many years. In 1946, he was one of the first conductors of the Des Moines Municipal Band's summer "Music Under the Stars" and at age 91 was invited back as a guest conductor for the 60th anniversary. During World War II, Sgt. Bird was leading U.S. Air Force bands in New Mexico and Texas in a variety of settings from base dances, parades, and orchestral repertoire for special events. He was discharged in 1946 after four years of service. He was a longtime member of DeKalb Rotary Club and was a past president of the group. He also belonged to the Masons, the Shriners, and played with the Shrinanigans "Big Band" touring group. He was a member of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ in DeKalb.
He is survived by his daughter, Carol (Richard) McKay, of Vienna, Va.; two grandchildren, Alexandra and Nicholas McKay, both of Vienna, Va., and several nieces and nephews, including Colin Serle of Minneapolis, formerly of Fairmont.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Topaz (Riles) Bird; his parents; and a sister, Ruth Serle, of Fairmont.