William Charles “Bill” Cordes

William Charles “Bill” Cordes

Birth
Death 23 Feb 2005 (aged 59)
Burial Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA
Memorial ID 11209564 · View Source
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William C. Cordes was a man of varied interests whether it was riding roller coasters, growing cacti or being involved in old street car history and preservation. But it was being a homophile that Cordes enjoyed best and he did it with amazing grace.

The St. Louis gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community is poorer for the loss of Bill Cordes who passed away Feb. 23, 2005 from cancer at the age of 59. But we're richer beyond measure for all that he represented and left behind.

Born in St. Louis on July 17, 1945, Cordes was helped out of the closet by a friend following Cordes' battle with depression over his sexuality in 1977. He wasted no time diving into the fledgling Gateway City GLBT community.

He immediately began volunteering with the St. Louis Gay Hotline and with the publication, Gay St. Louis. Both were operated by the Mid-Continent Life Services Corporation (MLSC), an agency that served as the first GLBT Community Center in St. Louis but soon failed financially. Shortly after, Galen Moon invited Cordes to join a small group of lesbians and gay men who were actively seeking to reestablish a hotline.

At the time St. Louis was the largest city in the country without a GLBT hotline for information, referrals and crisis intervention. The group soon banded with the Gay Academic Union (GAU) and reinstated the hotline for which Cordes served as the first chairperson of the Hotline Committee for GAU-St. Louis. He would later be known as the father of the hotline. In 1979, Bill founded Gay Life Magazine to fill the void of Gay St. Louis (formerly Prime Time), St. Louis' first queer publication.

Sensing a growing lethargy within the GLBT community, Cordes realized his longtime dream and opened Our World Too bookstore on Vandeventer in June 1987. It was to be a "touchable anchor" for the community and a haven for St. Louis' GLBT residents, their friends, family, and allies for the next 12 years. Aside from the plethora of queer titles and GLBT paraphernalia, it was designed to be a safe-ground for community members, no matter what.

"Bill warmly welcomed everyone into the store without making judgments or making patrons feel pressured," explained longtime friend Rob Schwitz. "He recommended great books when asked. He always seemed to know when people walked in as ‘first timers' and made sure they felt comfortable and in a safe environment. He had a great gift for this."

In fact, many people did "come out" through entering its doors and OWT was long considered one of the best GLBT bookstores in the nation.

"It was the first time I spoke to someone who was openly gay or lesbian," explained Matt Marco of the time that, as an isolated teen, an English teacher gave him a roll of quarters, the number of OWT and an hour to kill after reading his poem, "My Deepest, Darkest Secret." "And that was Bill and that ended my isolation and I've been active in the gay and lesbian community ever since."

Our World Too closed its doors in 1999 due to bad financing and debt structure. Yet despite the far reaching impact his bookstore had on the community and the many accolades he had received for community service, it was his work with GLBT youth that Cordes wanted to be remembered for as he explained in a 2003 interview with the Vital VOICE.

"One of the surest ways to ensure that a community is healthy is to ensure that its youth enter it in a positive, supportive way," Cordes stated. "The more people who, at an early age, discover how to feel good about themselves and their community, the less problems they will have throughout their lives and the more support they will be able to give others who are struggling. Who knows when each of us may need that support?"

Cordes supervised Growing American Youth (GAY) shortly after the group's founding in 1979 and would do so for nearly two decades. The group's purpose is to provide opportunities, direction, support, information and social recreational activities for GLBT and questioning youth under 21. GAY continues to this day as one of the oldest organizations of its kind and under Cordes' calm and quiet direction, hundreds of queer youth have gotten a "heads up" on and a "helping hand" into the greater community at large.

On the evening of Feb. 28, shortly after Cordes' funeral, about 50 G.A.Y. alumni attended a get -together and remembrance for Cordes aptly at Uncle Bill's Pancake House on Kingshighway. In attendance were both Marco and Schwitz, now in their 30's, who had met Cordes through the youth group. Together, they shared positive memories of their friend and how he changed their life for the better.

"A healthy, adult gay community, just to touch the surface," is how Marco believes Cordes should be remembered. "I think his contribution to the community is so large it can't be calculated. The man did more for St. Louis' gay community than any other human being alive and he did a whole heck of a lot for the gay community in the United States in general."

"He was a man who was a friend, mentor, community leader, gay and lesbian bookstore owner — long before Amazon.com was even an idea — father figure, hero, pioneer, shoulder to cry on, selfless giver, and all around kind and good person," explained Schwitz. "As Michael Callen with the gay singing group the Flirtations said, ‘The only measure of your words and your deeds is the love you leave behind when you're gone.' Bill's passing leaves a tremendous void in our hearts, but if we follow his example of selfless service to others, his spirit and memory will live on for decades to come."

In addition to family and a host of friends, Cordes is survived by his dear friend, roommate and G.A.Y. alum Kristofer Claywell who cared for him throughout his illness.

To honor Bill Cordes a memorial Web site has been created at www.billsheart.com.

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  • Maintained by: LGBT St. Louis
  • Originally Created by: Kim
  • Added: 20 Jun 2005
  • Find a Grave Memorial 11209564
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for William Charles “Bill” Cordes (17 Jul 1945–23 Feb 2005), Find a Grave Memorial no. 11209564, citing Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Lemay, St. Louis County, Missouri, USA ; Maintained by LGBT St. Louis (contributor 47426070) .