Richard Dennis Sorenson, 83, of Pensacola, Florida passed away on Saturday, October 10, 2020.
Rich was born 1936 in Duluth, Minnesota to Helia and Harold Rajala. He graduated in 1961 from the Louisiana State University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and enjoyed a beautiful marriage to his wife of 34 years, Nelda DeBardelaben Sorenson.
Rich began working at the age of 9 going door to door selling Christmas Cards, and later delivered newspapers in Northport, Long Island, New York. He then continued working at a local bowling alley as a pinsetter. After moving to Baton Rouge, LA at age 14, he began delivering the Times-Picayune newspaper, first by bike, and then a Model A Ford. Rich put himself through LSU as a cookware salesman and, after graduation in 1961, began work in New York for Amoco as a petroleum products sales manager in the Northeast region. Later, opportunity called in Columbia, South Carolina as Economic Development Director, and then to Omaha, Nebraska as Director of the Omaha Industrial Foundation. Rich later expanded into industrial real estate in Springfield, Missouri and then Midland, Texas, where he worked for Exxon Corporation as a “land man”. Later, he started his own real estate firm, Garden District Properties, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He completed his working life as Executive Director of the Santa Rosa County Industrial Development Authority from 1984 to 1994 and served as Executive Director of the Florida Economic Development Council. After moving from Milton and his beloved Blackwater Bay home to Pensacola in 1997, Rich enjoyed being a substitute teacher for Escambia County.
Rich was a man of many interests. He and Nelda traveled much of the world exploring together. Many of his adventures were on his two-wheel vehicles, both bikes and motorcycles. He secretly bought his first motorcycle at age 14 and owned a total of 36 over his lifetime, participating in short-track racing as a teen and enduro competitions and dual-sport rides as he grew older. He bragged of having ridden in 49 of the 50 states and many foreign countries. He stopped riding at age 82 only because his last motorcycle was stolen from his home, to which he remarked, “God must be telling me it’s time to stop riding.” Bicycles became his exercise of choice at a young age and it continued to be so throughout his life. His most memorable accomplishment being a 2000-mile bicycle ride across the United States in his 70th birthday year, 2006.
Using his economic development experience, he and Nelda were among the founding forces in the procurement of the CSX rail line for the development of the Blackwater Heritage Trail in Milton, FL. Having ridden on many such trails throughout the country, he knew what it could do for the health and prosperity of the community that he loved and served. He also served as a volunteer usher for the historical Saenger Theater, alongside his wife Nelda, for 25 years making many good friends along the way. In addition, he was an active member of the local LSU Alumni Association, enjoying Saturday games with fellow alumni and his grandchildren at the local bowling alley. Family time in the summers at the family mountain cabin in Monteagle, TN, especially with his grandchildren and godchildren, was the pleasure of his life for 27 years.
Rich was a joyful force in life, beginning with teaching the grandchildren and others the “Monkey Song” in a very dramatic manner. In addition, he loved thinking up the most unique April Fool’s jokes to pull on family members. His love, jokes, laughter and emotional expression of care will be cherished and missed by all. A few years ago, he recorded his life experiences on 8 CD’s for close family members. He had plans to write a book titled One Lucky Guy. Although he did not get to complete it, Richie certainly was “one lucky guy” and we were blessed to be a part of his life!
Rich (Richie, My Sweet Love Darling, Richie-poo, Grandpa, G’pa, GG’pa, Godfather), is survived by his wife of 34 years, Nelda DeBardelaben Sorenson; 5 children, Stacy (Greg) Stith of Sarasota, FL, Darren Miller of Baton Rouge, LA, Paige (Dave) Klucina of Jacksonville, FL, Eric (Amanda) Sorenson of Los Angeles, CA., Monica (Chris) Casey of Pensacola;2 “adopted daughters” ,Alicia Cain of Estes Park, CO and Janell (David) Richards of Warner Robins, GA., and 2 sisters, Beth (Buck) Sparks of New Roads, LA and Wendy (Barry) Marx of Baton Rouge, LA. Rich also leaves behind 11 grandchildren, 7 great-grandchildren,4 godchildren and his two faithful dogs, Cheaha and Tenn Ten.
He is preceded in death by his parents, a brother, Bill Osborn, and his beloved dog, Sugarmutt.
No service will be held at this time because, per Rich’s request, a Jazz and Gumbo Celebration of Life will be held for him at a later date. Contributions can be made in his memory to the Blackwater Heritage State Trail, 5533 Alabama St,Milton, FL 32570.