Elderflower Spritzers and Pancakes

John Northage, 1951-2012

At the very end of 2011, I lost two people who were very important to me. One was Willa Sleath, who counts among her many accomplishments leadership roles at the legendary Findhorn in Scotland, and Keeper of the Chalice Well in my beloved Glastonbury (where I met her). The year couldn't make an exit without also taking my cherished friend Tony Rose, whom I'd been going to visit since he was the spry age of 85 (he passed away just after Christmas at the age of 96). Tony was exceedingly dear to me, and I am so happy that while all of my memories of him are joyful ones (all of them!), the last day I spent with him, Willa also came to visit, and it was a stunningly beautiful, sunny, record-breakingly warm day in England (85 degrees in early October). We had a beautiful lunch prepared by Tony's wife (my first Glastonbury friend, Daphne), and everyone was dressed smartly.  It was nothing short of magical.

Just when I was afraid to ask, "What next?" 2011 went away and I was relieved to see the back of it. But then I received the shocking, tragic, heart-smashing news that my mentor's husband had died suddenly on January 29, 2012. 

I don't have many words to say about that; I've said what I have to say at his memorial service and have shared with his family (which in many ways are my family too) what is in my heart. But what matters is that you know about who John was, why his life was so damn important to this world, and why he will live on through the healing hands of students. Below is an obituary I wrote for him. Neither of the major Chicago rags picked it up, which is not surprising (even for an obit penned by a Medill grad). But here it is, so that anyone wanting to know more about him can find it here. See you next time around the wheel, John.

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JohnAbove: John Northage in his trademark tie-dye uniform, with his wife Althea at his side. Alan Salmi at far left.

John Northage was well known and respected in the Chicagoland complementary and alternative healing community for his talents as a structural bodyworker, cranio-sacral therapist, acupuncturist, and energy worker. Aptly dubbed by many “a gentle giant,” Mr. Northage transformed the minds and bodies of hundreds of clients and students through his Rogers Park private practice and as a teacher at the Chicago College of Healing Arts.

“As a healer, John was amazing,” said his wife of 26 years, Althea Northage-Orr. “He had those enormous hands, but they were so delicate in their touch. I once watched him straighten out the cranial bones of an infant. She had come wearing a helmet, crying. When she felt his touch, she took a deep breath and stilled. She left with her head as normal as a baby’s head should be… His touch was magical.”

Mr. Northage died suddenly at his nature sanctuary near Culver, Ind., on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012, of an apparent heart attack.

Born John Robert Phillips Northage, Jr., on Oct. 20, 1951 in South Bend, Ind., to John Robert Phillips Northage and Genevieve Troyer, Mr. Northage spent his youth working on local farms. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Restaurant Management from Purdue University in 1973.

Mr. Northage worked in the restaurant industry and owned a landscaping business for several years until he met Althea Orr at a festival in Indiana in 1985. Within four and a half months they were married and living in Chicago, where they founded the Chicago Center for Psychophysical Healing in the late 1980s. Ms. Northage-Orr educated him in various healing modalities, including the structural integration bodywork for which he would later become famous. In 2000, they identified the need for organized, holistic education of herbalists, bodyworkers and acupuncturists, and founded the Chicago College of Healing Arts in the same building. In neighboring treatment rooms, the pair enjoyed extremely busy private practices.

They also found much happiness in raising their three children, Justin, Ariel, and Joanna, who grew up in the midst of a vast community of clients, students and colleagues for whom their parents served as a hub.

“He was an amazing parent to our three children, but he was a father figure to many, many other children as well,” said his wife.

Notably, many of these came from the Chicago Waldorf School where the Northage-Orr children received their education. Mr. Northage’s youthful adventures on farms and his talent for cooking for a crowd came in handy when the family bought their cherished 80 acres in Indiana, where they hosted Chicago Waldorf School second-grade field trips and their own college workshops for 20 years. Mr. Northage’s educational focus at these events was respecting the Earth and working in concert with nature. Unsurprisingly, he shaped the land himself, adding buildings, electrical and plumbing systems, landscaping, and growing herbs and crops. In more recent years, he turned his attention to perfecting a technique for making biodiesel, which powered his blue van.

One unforgettable characteristic of Mr. Northage’s was his lightning-quick sense of humor, which, despite its reliance on bad puns, was always impeccably timed, for good or ill. Mr. Northage also delighted in encouraging little ones’ suspicions that he was Santa Claus, welcoming them to tug on his peppermint-scented beard.

“He took great care of my mother and became her partner in everything; I often think their marriage was unique because of that,” said his eldest son, Justin. “He was a great father to me, my brother and my sister. He was generous of heart and taught us so many things.”

Mr. Northage is survived by his wife, Althea, sons Justin and Ariel, daughter Joanna, and by three sisters.

A memorial service will be held on Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Chicago Waldorf School Auditorium, 1300 W. Loyola, Chicago, Ill., 60626.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made the Northage-Orr family to help the children complete their college and Waldorf education, and to offset funeral expenses. Checks may be made payable to Althea Northage-Orr and sent to 1622 W. Devon Ave., Chicago, Ill., 60660.

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