1897 – 1977
Born into a life of privilege – devoted to a life of service.
Cadmus Zaccheus Gordon was born in Brookville, Pennsylvania in 1897. He attended Andover, was Phi Beta Kappa at Yale and took his law degree at the University of Pennsylvania. After serving in the First World War, he practiced corporate law in Philadelphia and was active with the Big Brother program, the Seamens Church Institute, and other movements that assisted the underprivileged.
When World War ll began, Zach joined the United Service Organization and arrived in Juneau in 1943 to direct the U.S.O. Club. In a ramshackle building downtown, Zach was host to hundreds of servicemen stationed here as well as those en route to other war zones. At the end of the war, he offered to remain in Juneau for six months if the community would agree to convert the U.S.O. facilities into a club for teenagers. The community took him up on his offer, and the Teen Age Club of Juneau was born.
Zach had seen the need, but six months was not enough to fill it, and by then he was committed to the young people of Juneau. He stayed on, and in those early years he did almost everything; he was director, janitor, fund-raiser, confidante, counselor, teacher, surrogate parent and friend. Zach made fudge and hamburgers, taught youngsters how to play pool and ping pong, and was an easy touch when one was in need. He passed out quarters for the juke box so everyone would have an opportunity to play their favorite song whether they had money or not and swore he got them all back at the end of the evening.
Zach always wore a suit, vest and tie, and he embodied the term “gentleman” with his courtly manners and gentle insistence on an ethical approach to any game or problem. Zach envisioned a “home away from home” for Juneau’s teenagers and Provided it until his death on July 11, 1977.
Zach knew the names of all the Juneau youngsters and made visitors from every town and village in Alaska equally welcome at the club. He attended school functions, never missed a basketball game, and spoke at many commencements. There is no official record of the number of deserving college-bound youngsters for whom Zach quietly arranged financial assistance.
Although Zach was admired and supported in his efforts by many citizens in the community, he was not without his detractors and he waged many battles to save the club. The lack of support from some quarters was in response to his total lack of prejudice at a time when racial bias was tolerated in this area. Zach’s teenagers, whatever their origins, were welcome at their second home.
Under Zach’s stewardship the club sponsored a Teenage Toastmasters group, weekly radio programs, discussion groups, tournaments and recreation. The club adopted foster children, helped with fund drives, and held dances for worthy causes.
Through the years, Zach received many awards and citations. Alaska’s governor proclaimed May 22,1973 “Zach Gordon Day,” and the Rotary Club presented him with their prestigious Paul Harris Fellowship. Zach appreciated these honors, but the teenagers he watched grow and develop into contributing adults were his greatest source of pride. His small office was a picture gallery of young people from Southeast Alaska working in the arts, sciences, business, sports and law. He took joy in their accomplishments, and for them no visit home was complete without a heart-to-heart talk with Zach.
Following his death, the Teen Age Club was renamed in his honor. But what is now the Zach Gordon Youth Center would never have been built without the continued generosity of Zach’s friends back East. He was a tireless fundraiser for his dream, though he himself lived simply in one room.
During his 34 years in Juneau, Zach gave many speeches. Often they began, “I believe…” Zach believed in the basic goodness of the human spirit and was never embarrassed to say so.
“I believe in teenagers… because, among a wide variety of reasons, they are gifted with so much to contribute to the rest of us… so much that is beautiful and wise.”
This biography was written by Renee Guerin, Juneau High School, Class of 1954.