Noted local 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, Norm received a B.A. in journalism at Rutgers University in 1950 and an M.A. in political science there in 1952. While at Rutgers, he made waves with his peace and civil rights activism, regardless of blacklisting consequences he was to suffer later in the early 1950s. He was one of 350 Stockholm Peace Appeal sponsors condemned by the House Un-American Activities Committee (1951).
Other actions that drew negative attention, but served his quest to end discriminatory practices at Rutgers, included his joining 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 after his final concert appearance there prior to Rutgers banishing its most distinguished alumnus for his views. Norm later participated in civil rights actions alongside Paul Robeson, Jr.
After he served minor newspapers in North Jersey (and was blacklisted from job access to others), Norm accepted a teaching post at McNeese State College, 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 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 led its first European tour to London and to Kansas City’s sister city, Seville, Spain.
He resigned to return to newspaper work as editor-publisher of the Arthur (IL) Graphic-Clarion(1976-1977) 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 immediate retirement.
Ledgin subsequently 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. Norm lobbied successfully for local Santa Fe Trail historical markers.
An avid music enthusiast, he particularly enjoyed classical, among other genres, and spoke often of legendary Billie Holiday performances he attended.
Another title to Ledgin’s roles was added in 2000 when his first book, Diagnosing Jefferson, was published, followed by Asperger’s and Self-Esteem in 2002. The latter was translated and republished in Paris as Ces autistes qui changent le monde. Both books featured contributions by acclaimed autistic animal scientist Dr. Temple Grandin, with whom he appeared at conferences throughout this country, speaking about Asperger’s.
In 2006 Norm turned to fiction, publishing The Jayhawker, about the 1850s Kansas-Missouri Border War. He turned to mystery writing with Sour Notes (2009) and with its sequel, 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 book was Heart Deco (2016), which tackles the mystique behind 1930’s film star (and Kansas City native) Jean Harlow and her rumored cryonics preservation.
Over the years, his short stories appeared in annual compilations published by the Kansas City Writers Group. Norm’s fellow writers are remembering him for his intellect, creativity, sense of justice, acerbic wit, and as their guiding force.
Norm is survived by his wife of fifty years, Marsha, and their sons Alfred and Nicholas; three children by a prior marriage: Stephanie Ledgin-Toskos (Ted Toskos), Pittstown, NJ; David Ledgin, Olathe, KS; Allison Dey (Sergio Malacaria), Fort Scott, KS; and five grandchildren, Caroline, Eric, and Brittany Ledgin, and Zachary and Calla Jucha.
At Norm’s request, arrangements were private, with memorial contributions suggested to the ASPCA. His family and writer friends echo his sentiments: buy a print dictionary and use it.