Gilmore: Father's legacy of integrity and strength remembered - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:26 am
Gilmore: Father's legacy of integrity and strength remembered

Gloria Orduna O'Quinn had a very special mission when she recently came to Omaha from Los Angeles for her family reunion. Because that mission related to her late father, Assistant Los Angeles Fire Chief Paul Antonio Orduna, it touched her heart.

Orduna died in October 2012, leaving behind a powerful legacy. His daughter wants people to know how his strength, integrity, perseverance and loyalty touched many lives.

O'Quinn has worked passionately to preserve this legacy. She put together a memory book detailing her father's career and presented it to Anthony Gaines, president of the African American Firefighters Museum at 2028 Lake St. The museum received it as an extraordinary gift.

Orduna was an Omaha firefighter from 1952 to 1957 at Station 14 near 22nd and Lake Streets when he decided to move his family to L.A.

When he applied for a job as a firefighter in his new city, he passed the objective written test but was told he flunked the subjective oral exam given by a fire chief who was known for his racist views.

The Los Angeles Fire Department was going through many changes during that time. After pressure from the NAACP and African-American firefighters, the department was ordered to integrate.

Orduna reapplied, got a fair test and was hired. He integrated a fire station and was told to bring his own pots and pans so he could cook his own food, eat after everyone finished eating. He also slept in separate quarters. It was a lonely and silent existence at the fire station, but he persevered, holding his head high and rising above the bigotry.

In a series of promotions that began in 1974, Orduna eventually became a battalion chief. He then returned to school and got a bachelor's degree in management to prepare himself for further promotions.

In 1986, Orduna became the first African-American assistant fire chief in the history of the Los Angeles Fire Department. He didn't rest on his laurels, however. He was determined to make a difference. He created programs to increase cultural awareness among firefighters and advised many fire chiefs on how to improve the department's racial balance. He headed a new division that oversaw training and recruitment.

He was widely known for his accessibility and his passion for assisting younger firefighters as they attempted to move up through the ranks. It was very important to him to help others as he became successful.

His memory book is filled with stories about a man of honor who achieved success despite roadblocks. It spoke of how he managed to ignore the taunts and humiliation early in his career, while demonstrating the love and integrity in his heart. It told how he reached out to help others and managed to elude bitterness. The memory book includes many newspaper and magazine articles that told his story.

That story wouldn't surprise anyone who knows of the Orduna family. Paul was the youngest of four brothers and two sisters. Their parents were Henry and Bessie Orduna.

Henry was an interpreter for the Latino community in South Omaha, helping residents with legal issues. Bessie was a devoted housewife and mother, and both parents established strong, principled values in their children.

Paul's siblings included oldest brother Ralph, a Tuskegee airman, and the Rev. John Orduna, an ordained minister. Dorothy Orduna Brantley, the oldest sister, worked for the Omaha Star, the only black weekly newspaper in Nebraska, during its startup. Baby sister Amelia Orduna Donaldson's family owned a beauty supply store. Amelia is the last living member of the original family.

Gloria Orduna O'Quinn is proud of the family and especially proud of her father.

“My dad retired in 1991, after 33 years of service. He had a phenomenal career, and he was a wonderful human being and great dad,” she said.

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