Monday, July 11, 2016

50 Years of Benton --- Norem Impact

I’ve never been a science or math head.  I took the minimal amount of math and science in high school to get into UNI back in the early 80’s.  What I am though is someone who has benefited from people who tried to teach me math and science.  One of those people is Dick Norem.  Dick is my former High School Chemistry Teacher and Basketball/Softball Coach.  

When I met with him recently at a local Panera Bakery, I learned so much about him and his family that I didn’t know.  It really made me come away with a renewed sense of there is so much more to an educator than one can learn from being a student in their classroom or athlete on one of their teams.

In his life, he says he has “few regrets and that God has truly blessed us.”  Dick and Patsy were looking for employment after graduating from UNI.  Along with employment, they were also looking for a desk and saw an advertisement for a desk being sold.  When they went to look at it they found themselves at the Associate Pastor’s house from their church in Cedar Falls. The Pastor asked if them if they had ever considered going overseas as a missionary teacher. To make a long story short, they ended up skipping the graduation ceremonies to start packing all their belongings into two 50 gallon barrels to go to Ethiopia.  Dick shared that this was an incredible experience to gain perspective on life.  

Dick and Patsy have continued service trips over the years including going to Mexico 6 times to build houses with the high school youth group from their church. These trips always serve to give kids a better perspective on their own lives as well as the lives of people around them. 

After being in Ethiopia for two years, Patsy got typhoid and they came back home and started their life in Dunkerton.  Dick was looking for a coaching position so he was being particular about where he went and Dunkerton fit the bill the best.  Principal Ed Schank turned out to be a great principal for him to work with in his first years of teaching in the states.  Dick remembers him being behind the teachers 100% and a sports guy.  Dick coached girls track, softball, and was assistant girls BB for 2 years and then head girls BB coach for 3 years for a total of 5 years in Dunkerton. 

When I asked him about what brought him to Benton, he responded, “God” (He is and always has been in control).   He was finishing up his MNS at the University of Idaho through a National Science Foundation Grant.  The US Government at that time paid tuition, books and a small stipend to complete the four summer program.  When offered the opportunity to come and teach and coach at BC he readily accepted the job offer with great anticipation. The coaching position was open due to the resigning of Larry Wiebke so he could assume the position of Activities Director.  Dick said that he inherited a group of very talented girls and a great program. 

That spring Dick was off to Idaho to finish the last summer of his masters program. He and Patsy had 2 little girls at the time, and Patsy was left with the task of selling their house in Dunkerton and buying their house in Van Horne  while taking care of their two small girls.  They paid $10,000 for a mustard colored house inside and out.  Eventually they bought the house north of them and tore it down for a nice yard.  They lived in that house the entire time Dick was teaching at Benton Community – plus two years- 33 years!  

As a student of Mr. Norem’s, I remember he and Mr. Bell as being very close.  They walked or worked out every morning at 6:30 and solved the educational problems that had surfaced the day before.  In many ways Marv and he are as close as brothers.  He told me that he and Mr. Bell experienced very few discipline problems because  the students were usually motivated to learn in their classes.  He and Marv taught many of the same students and they enjoyed sharing their classroom experiences.  He thinks that Benton Community has rock solid core values with the families they serve, as well as the staff.  I also remember that Mr. Norem and his wife sang at many events.  They have beautiful voices.
Patsy & Dick Norem

Here are a few other parts to the Norem story I didn’t know:

    • Dick and Patsy have continued service trips over the years including going to Mexico 6 times to build houses with the high school youth group from their church. These trips always serve to give kids a better perspective on their own lives as well as the lives of people around them.   
    • Dick taught science for 47 years full time and he is still subbing today.  He loves the high school age student and he shares, “they keep him young”
    • Dick and his wife, Patsy, met at Waldorf College.  He graduated from UNI after attending 2 years at Waldorf.  He recently attended his 50th class reunion at Waldorf with 50 other classmates. 
    • Dick coached three sports at at BC:  Girls BB, Assistant Softball and Boy’s golf.  He and Patsy were also sponsors of FCA.  He says, “Kids haven’t changed.  They want structure.”  
    • He left BC because he got a call from Steve Russell (who he went to church with) and he asked if Dick wanted to teach at Cedar Valley Christian.  “During those 9 years it was the greatest place to be.”  He wasn’t looking to leave Benton Community at the time.  “All my life I knew that God was in control.”  “Benton Community was a great place for me all those years and I wouldn’t trade those years either.” 
    • Jay Lieb and Dick take a fishing trip every summer and have been doing that for over 20 years.
    • Dick taught with Steve McGrew for many years.  They both like to experiment with chemistry.  One of their chemistry experiments was a pressure thing that caused a loud reaction, which they planted in the classroom and in the hallway.  He still has the book with the recipe for that “experiment”.
    • Dick’s Chimney sweep is a former student who lived in the house they tore down to gain more of a yard.  This student now owns his own successful business.
    • Dick spent time with one of our former superintendent’s family when their daughter died recently in a tragic car accident.
    • Dick has a brother that was a school counselor, teacher and coach at the high school level. He went on to become a teacher of counselors at the University level.  He is to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at UNI this October.
    Mr. Norem being honored for his service to others

Dick ended our conversation with saying, “I love running into former students no matter where I am.  I always remember the face, not always the name.  Patsy does though.”   People in your life can fade from your memory when you aren’t in contact with them on a consistent basis.  Dick made me feel like there had been no time passed since the last time I spoke with him.  His passion for people and serving others is an inspiration to me.  I may not have been a math or science head, but what I hope he did transfer to me is his faith and ability to share that gift with others.  

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