A merry heart in Churubusco

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. — Proverbs 17:22If you could bottle Harold Norman’s laugh, every patient would get a prescription for it from their doctor. Life has thrown him some curves which could break a man’s spirit, but one wouldn’t know it from his continuous and infectious laughter.“I always look forward to a phone call from my friend, Harold Norman!” says Rosalie Geller-Byrne. “His laughter is like a vitamin pill.”Geller-Byrne has worked closely with Norman over the years, first as a parent of some of his students, and then through his work with the Fine Arts department at Churubusco High School. “My children learned to express themselves in written word and take command of language skills in his English classes at CHS,” Geller-Byrne said.Norman, 76, began his teaching career at CHS in 1957 and continued there until he retired in 1998. Retirement didn’t mean slowing down for Norman, though.Just last spring he was hard at work helping out a former student, Amy Jagger, as she directed the play, “Guys and Dolls” at CHS last spring.She had played one of the leads under the direction of Norman during her high school career on the stage.“Harold is such a wonderful hard-worker with a servant heart,” said Jagger.“I hope people can truly appreciate how much credit he deserves for the theater department being so successful at Churubusco High School for so many years.” Norman said he had very little experience on the stage before his first year teaching at CHS when Vivian Harris, a teacher there, asked him if he would help with the senior play at CHS. It was to be the beginning of a long career for Norman — and the ‘Busco community will probably never be the same. When he began to pass the torch to Geller-Byrne, she was grateful for his knowledge and experience which he willingly shared. “He offered his years of experience, friendly advice, knowledge of how to handle schedules, students, anxious parents,” said Geller-Byrne, “and the incredible work load that encompasses an extracurricular activity like a musical production.As a colleague, there is none finer.”Get Norman talking about theater and he can tell funny stories as if he were still there about nearly every production of which he has been a part. His favorites seemed to be the musicals, and one example of his influence is in the fact that in a student body of 400, there were 76 cast for the production of “Fiddler on the Roof” in the 1976-77 school year.Norman was the founder of the Turtle Town Players, a community theater group in ‘Busco. This organization has performed some very popular shows highlighting past performers called “Celebration,” in which the favorites return to the stage to perform songs from their previous performances. As if all this weren’t enough, Norman has served on the Whitley County Community Foundation board, the Churubusco Library board, the Methodist church board, has been a Sunday school teacher, worked with the food giveaway on missions and served on the Turtle Town Players board. One of the curves thrown at him was his recent bout with cancer. His spirit wasn’t broken, though, and he says with a hint of pride that he is a seven-year cancer survivor and has been cancer-free for three years. Rather than slowing down, he picked up another hat, helping raise money for a cancer cure with the local Relay for Life organization.Norman has been looking back over his life recently, not so much in reminiscing, but to find out just what happened to some of those students he had those many years ago. The class of 1960 recently celebrated 50 years since they graduated and made sure that Harold Norman was there at the event. “When those kids graduated, it was like a funeral to me,” Norman said, even though the 22 weeks of night rehearsal that year just about did him in.“I was tired!” he said.He has been gathering information about some of the students from the past 50 years to put together in some form for the community.Jennifer Gross, who played Liza in “My Fair Lady” in 1996-97 is one student he mentioned. She is involved with the Center Grove High School music department of which Norman says, “Their choirs just blow you away!”Chris Mettert, Higgins in “My Fair Lady” opposite Gross, now has the show choir and other choirs at Kendallville.Jessica Petelle, known for her role as Gladys in ‘The Pajama Game” 1993-94 has gone on to Hollywood, says Norman, and worked as a screener for Jerry Springer.Shane Barkley, who went on to direct for Columbia City High School in recent years was under the direction of Norman in high school. “His Beauty and the Beast was the best I had ever seen,” Norman said.Geller-Byrne sums it up well: “Harold Norman has contributed greatly to the lives of young people in and around Churubusco for many years.” And if you get a chance to sit and talk with Harold Norman, be prepared for a good dose of medicine in the form of laughter.becky@thepostandmail.com