All content including photographs copyright Stephanie P. Ledgin 2021. All reproduction rights reserved.
author / journalist / historian / activist / my dad
1928 - 2019
Noted author-historian Norman M. Ledgin, 90, of Stanley, KS, passed away peacefully at home Tuesday, June 18, 2019, after a fierce, two-year battle with degenerative lung disease. A member of the Kansas City Writers Group since its inception, he continued to critique colleagues’ submissions until five days before his death.
Born in Passaic, NJ July 15, 1928, to Helen (Schlegel) and Simon (Cy) Ledgin, Norm received a bachelor of letters degree in journalism at Rutgers University in 1950 and a master of arts in political science there in 1952. While at Rutgers, where he was inducted into the prestigious Cap and Skull Society, he made waves with his peace and civil rights activism, regardless of blacklisting consequences he was to suffer later in the early 1950s. He is listed on page 119 of the U.S. House of Representatives Report No. 378, 82nd Congress, First Session, April 1, 1951, which condemned a “Peace Offensive” by a few hundred “distinguished patriots with whom I’m proud to be forever listed as opposing manufacture, storage, and use of nuclear weapons, either by the U.S. or U.S.S.R.,” as he stated on his most recent Web page. Within those pages, he was one of 350 Stockholm Peace Appeal sponsors condemned by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Other actions that drew negative attention by Rutgers administration, but served his quest to end discriminatory practices at his alma mater, included his 1949 joining of Omega Psi Phi, a predominantly African-American social fraternity. At the time, Ledgin was on staff of The Targum, the campus newspaper he later served as editor-in-chief. During his tenure, he was the last person at Rutgers to interview Paul Robeson, its most distinguished alumnus, after his final concert appearance there prior to Rutgers banishing Robey for his views. Norm later participated in civil rights actions alongside Paul Robeson, Jr.
After he served minor daily and weekly newspapers in North Jersey (and was blacklisted from job access to others), Norm accepted a teaching post at McNeese State College (now University), Lake Charles, LA, in 1956. In 1957 he turned to safety work, leading accident prevention efforts in Southwest Louisiana as manager of the Calcasieu Safety Council (1957-1962), a branch of the National Safety Council. He then moved to a similar post in Kansas City, MO, where he won the National Safety Council Trustees’ award – the Flame of Life – his first year as manager. He founded Kansas City’s Municipal Court Driver Improvement School in 1966, received numerous other national awards, became the nation’s first Certified Safety Council Executive, and chaired the national Defensive Driving Program.
In 1969, at the Greater Kansas City Area Safety Council, he met, hired, and married his wife, the former Marsha Montague. Later that year, as chair of the Kansas City Youth Symphony, Norm, accompanied by Marsha, led its first European tour to London and to Kansas City’s sister city, Seville, Spain.
He resigned from the Safety Council to return to newspaper work as editor-publisher of the Arthur (IL) Graphic-Clarion (1976-77) and was later editor-publisher of The Blue Valley Gazette, Stanley, KS, which he founded in partnership with Marsha in 1980. Shortly after their first son, Alfred, was born in 1984, Norm was diagnosed with colon cancer, which prompted his retiring from the newspaper business that year.
But Ledgin was neither one to sit on his laurels nor one to remain idle. He went on to serve on national, state, and local boards of nonprofit educational and philanthropic agencies. He chaired the Johnson County, KS Democratic Central Committee and served an elected term as clerk of historic Oxford Township, KS. Due to his interest and research, Norm lobbied successfully for local Santa Fe Trail historical markers.
Throughout his life he was an avid music enthusiast, in particular of classical. In fact, he wrote that he regretted not having pursued music professionally. Among other genres and artists he thoroughly enjoyed were opera (he loved Anna Netrebko), the music of Gershwin, folk (he was the happiest man on earth when I introduced him to Pete Seeger and he got his autograph), Scott Joplin rags, and bluegrass -- becoming quite the Del McCoury fan after the success of the music from O Brother, Where Art Thou? During the Forties, he was enchanted during the many Billie Holiday performances he attended in New York City.
Another title to Ledgin’s roles was added in 2000 when Future Horizons, Inc, Arlington, TX, published his first book, Diagnosing Jefferson, followed by Asperger’s and Self-Esteem in 2002. The latter has been translated and republished in Paris under the title, Ces autistes qui changent le monde. Both books featured comments and a foreword, respectively, by acclaimed autistic animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, with whom he appeared at conferences throughout the United States, speaking about autism and Asperger’s.
In 2006 Norm turned to fiction, reworking and publishing his previously serialized account of the 1850s Kansas-Missouri Border War, The Jayhawker. In 2009 he turned to mystery writing in Sour Notes, featuring middle-aged piano teacher Sally Freberg, who solves crimes through her knowledge of opera. Its sequel was Disharmony (2016).
During the height of the Sally Hemings-Thomas Jefferson revelations, he wrote the historical novel Sally of Monticello: Founding Mother (2012), revolving around their relationship.
Ledgin’s final published book was Heart Deco (2016) which tackles the mystique behind 1930’s film star (and Kansas City native) Jean Harlow and an intriguing concept that she was frozen (cryonics) upon her death in 1937 and brought back to life decades later. Over the years, his short stories and reminiscences appeared in annual compilation books published by the Kansas City Writers Group. Emails received by Norm’s family from Writers Group members reflect the highest regard for his intellect, creativity, sense of justice, acerbic wit, and for being the all-around guiding force among his fellow writers.
Norm is survived by his wife of fifty years, Marsha, and their sons Alfred and Nicholas; three children by a prior marriage: daughter Stephanie Ledgin-Toskos (Ted Toskos), Pittstown, NJ; son David Ledgin, Olathe, KS; daughter Allison Dey (Sergio Malacaria); and five grandchildren, Caroline, Eric, and Brittany Ledgin, and Zachary and Calla Jucha.
At Norm’s request, arrangements were private. His wish was for no flowers, no clergy, no eulogies, no service, but he did suggest memorial contributions to the ASPCA. His family and writer friends echo his oft stated sentiments: buy a print dictionary and use it.