John Norton,  III

Obituary of John Ira Norton, III

John Ira Norton III, a nationally-recognized community organizer of Saint Paul, Minnesota, passed away unexpectedly on Friday, February 12 in Youngstown, Ohio. He was 62 years old. The cause of death was a massive heart attack he had while running. Born June 23, 1953, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, John was the son of Gloriann O’Leary Norton Zimmer and John Ira Norton, Jr. He was married November 15, 1996, to Barbara E. Horlbeck on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina and was father to two daughters, Caitie and Ellie. John attended Saint John’s Preparatory School and Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, where his keen sense of social justice was nurtured. His first job out of college was as an aide for U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey. Since 1986, John worked for the Chicago-based Gamaliel network, an organization founded to train community and faith leaders to build political power and create organizations that unite people of diverse faiths and races. In his position as National Director of Training, John trained thousands of people to live this mission. Over his career, John was instrumental in founding dozens of community organizations around the country. From the Dakota Resource Council (DRC), founded in 1978 to protect North Dakota’s rural communities and environment to, most recently, Advocates Building Lasting Equality (ABLE) in New Hampshire which gives voice to children and adults with disabilities, he was a tireless advocate for justice and racial equality for all. The streak of fire that drove John’s sense of justice will continue to burn in the hearts of those he inspired in his professional and personal life. John Norton drew inspiration and imagination from the natural world. He found solitude in wild places, including the woods of northern Minnesota and the Red River Valley as they provided a space for him for the reflection he sought. He also drew sustenance from deep conversations with his family, his close friends, and his god. A man of profound faith, John was devoted to and adored his family. Preceded in death by his parents, John is survived by his wife, Barbara Horlbeck, and two daughters, Caitie Ryan-Norton, 27, of Minneapolis, and Ellie Norton, 14, of Saint Paul, a brother, Matt Norton (Christy) of East Grand Forks, Minnesota, and a sister, Laurie Norton of Nashville, Tennessee. John delighted in his seven nieces and nephews and was a grateful member of a large, extended and devoted family. Famous for his impish sense of humor and his timely irreverence, he had the gift of providing gut-wrenching laughter at just the right moment. John Norton will be profoundly missed by all who knew him. A Memorial Service and Reception for John Norton will be held Friday, February 19 at 5:30 pm at Our Lady of Victory Chapel at St. Catherine University, 2004 Randolph Avenue, Saint Paul. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the Friends of the Boundary Waters ( or to the John Norton Organizer Development Fund at the Gamaliel Network to support the training of organizers. ( Those attending the funeral of John Norton are encouraged to enter the St. Catherine University campus through “gate #1” at the northwest corner of the campus–that is, at the corner of Randolph and Cleveland Avenues in St. Paul. Attendees are invited to park along the right hand side of the road that angles into the campus from the gate and that then turns sharply to the right to return to Cleveland Avenue. It will be a walk of only one or two hundred yards to the entrance to Our Lady of Victory chapel. Enter at the door at the base of the chapel bell tower, which is easily visible at the west end of campus.
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We are deeply sorry for your loss ~ the staff at Willwerscheid Funeral Home & Cremation Service - Grand Avenue Chapel
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