The Memory Keeper of Keene
The lessons in simple generosity that Norma Walker '51 learned around Grandpa's large Thanksgiving table have kept her engaged with Keene State alumni throughout the years.
Norma Walker '51
While at Keene Teachers College, Norma made deep friendships and participated in sports and several activities, including groups associated with her major in elementary education. She was head of the basketball program and an all-star player in volleyball, softball, basketball, and field hockey. Special occasions on campus in those days were often decorated with fresh garlands from her family's farm in Hancock.
Norma and friend Rita Hayes '51
When Norma graduated and went into elementary-school teaching, she worked in several schools in the Monadnock region, including a stint at the Wheelock School in Keene in the late 1950s, which she considered a dream come true because of Wheelock's relationship with the College. She got a master's degree from Keene in 1959 (typing her thesis, she recalls, while very pregnant with her first child) and continued to develop her skills and knowledge as a teacher. Norma taught reading here at the College for five years in the late '70s, where she offered her students a wealth of practical, from-the-trenches experience.
Norma retired from teaching in 1985, but continued her involvement with Keene State. She served on the Alumni Board of Directors and was Board president for two terms in the 1990s.
"When Mike Maher became director of Alumni Relations," she recalled, "I noticed that the classes from the early 1920s didn't have class secretaries. So I asked Mike if I could contact one of those classes. Once I got started, it just sort of snowballed. In 1996, we found that there were several alums living at Havenwood (a retirement community in Concord, N.H.), so I made arrangements to go over and have punch and cookies with them." That effort, too, soon snowballed and became the Golden Circle luncheons held at various locations around New Hampshire and Maine throughout the summer.
Those who know Norma wonder how she does it all. She maintains a voluminous correspondence with classmates, alumni, faculty, and staff. She calls and visits College friends. She's in the Alumni office in Elliot Center several times a week, sending out birthday and special-occasion cards and nearly 300 Christmas cards, keeping in touch with staff and alumni and working on projects for such events as Reunion or Homecoming. She collects news for Keene State Today. Oh, she also functions as secretary for several classes and is the driving force behind the Golden Circle Society (alumni who graduated 50 or more years ago). She has organized the Society's luncheons from the first one in June 1997 to the 100th luncheon last November. Each event requires sending out invitations, negotiating with the hosting restaurant, organizing name tags and welcoming each guest, and overseeing the program (with the help of her trusty brass school bell and her disarming graciousness).
A couple of years ago, she started collecting "memories," mostly from Golden Circle alumni. Norma sends out a form that requests basic contact information and asks the recipient to describe a special memory of their time at the College. As she said, "I realized that we were losing so many of our older alums, and I thought it would be nice to get some of these tidbits recorded. A lot of them are personal, but they show some of the history of the College. I thought it would be fun, and some of them come in with some very interesting anecdotes. They show how different people experience the College." So far, she's collected more than 300. "I've received a lot of letters from people from the '20s – there's a lot of good material there," she explained. "It's really special."
If you ask her why she's so connected, she's likely to offer a modest reply, such as, "Keene made me what I am today." But it's obvious, once you understand a bit of the time, effort, and deep friendship Norma puts into maintaining her connection to Keene alums, that there's much more to her dedication than she's likely to admit.
As a young girl, her elders presented a valuable example. "I think my work with people came from my upbringing on a small farm in Hancock," she recalled. "We didn't have much, but Grampa (Ephraim Weston) always shared a big Thanksgiving dinner with neighbors, friends, and family. Easter also found many at his table, which, on those occasions, was several tables pushed together and covered with sheets for tablecloths. We'd lay planks across chairs so there was room for everyone. Those were special times in my life. My grandfather and my Aunt Ellen believed in doing for people while they were alive, and this taught me to go and visit alums whom we might never know about and who are the history and foundation of the College.
"I really enjoy being involved with the Keene alumni," Norma explained. "I became motivated at first partly because it seemed like the only time I heard from Keene was during a fund drive, when the College was asking for money. But when I was on the Board and started to get really involved with Keene State, there is so much more – I just wanted to reconnect people, so they'd know that Keene was here for them, that Keene needed them and they needed Keene, and it wasn't at all just about money. Keene was here because of them, and to me, this is important. Once you see the close interaction between people, it's worth it. You watch people who meet at a Golden Circle luncheon, for example, who haven't seen each other for a long time, and the conversations and reunion that happen are wonderful."
A staff member who has attended several Golden Circle luncheons with Norma noted, "Norma always gives something to everyone who comes – it may be a hug, or a flower, or something she made, but she always gives something. She never asks them for anything."
She gives freely, never asks for anything in return, and personifies the history and connection that KSC has with its people and the Monadnock region. "I used to go down and visit Katherine Chase, from the class of 1916, in Troy – such a dear lady," Norma recalled. "After she graduated, Daddy Mason (president of Keene Normal School from 1911-1939) asked her to come back and teach art on campus. She was friends with Cassie Haven Sweet, from the class of '24, who lived in Rutland. I used to go and visit her on my way to the Vermont Country Store. She had been Fred Barry's sixth-grade teacher in Charlestown. And Cassie had been in Katherine Chase's first art class when Katherine taught up in Claremont. And Fred Barry had done his student teaching in Hancock (where Norma went to school, but after Fred's time there). I was treasurer of the Alumni Association for 10 years after I graduated, and then Fred became the first alumni director. There's quite a connection! Talk about a small world."
And in the center of most of those amazing connections, you'll find Norma Walker, gracefully maintaining the ties that bind alumni to KSC.
Ralph "Rudy" Werninger, '54
To add even more insult to injury, at one point during the game, the AIC goalie took the puck and skated through our defense to take a shot at our goal. Fortunately, he missed. We were a bit out of our league, you might say.
Lola Tanner Burns '54
The next day, I had a message to go to Dr. Young's office (president of the College from 1939-64). This message worried me even more, since I'd never been summoned to the president's office before. Dr. Young explained that he knew I had declined Miss G's offer and asked if I might reconsider. I replied that I had just enough to get me through the year. Then he said, "Wouldn't you even like a new dress for graduation?" Well, this took me by surprise and I was momentarily speechless!
I never forgot that meeting and the special kindness of this gentle, caring man, Dr. Young. And, yes, I did accept the $40, and I did get a new dress for graduation!
Joan Hall McCarter '43
No one ever reported getting sick.
Chester Brach '41
"Chet, get in there!" cried Coach Caldwell.
I bolted off the bench and hurriedly removed my warm-up pants, not realizing that my basketball shorts came off, too. There I was, standing with only my supporter concealing the bottom part of my body. Oh boy, what a roar of cheers and laughter from the fans! I will never live that one down.
John Freese '42
The most dangerous part of the hurricane struck at suppertime. A group of students were standing outside Fiske Hall watching sheets of tin roofing peel off and go flying overhead and rolling around campus.
The house where Miss Thyng lived on campus was surrounded by water, making it difficult for her to get to the dining room. The kitchen staff prepared a food tray to be carried to her. As soon as the staff tried to carry it across campus, the high winds swept the food from the tray. Three times they made this attempt, and each time, they lost the food. Finally, someone got a small rowboat to ferry Miss Thyng to dry land and the dining room.
Dorothy Young Carruthers '40
Edith Wirling Lovering '40
A grocer delivered the specified food each day for that day's meals. It was my turn to cook and green-pea soup was on the menu, but yellow peas were in the delivery. What could I do?
I went to the cupboard and found green cake coloring. We ate bright yellowish-green soup that night. I learned that Mrs. Riggs did not have a sense of humor. Every time I make or eat pea soup, I think of the incident.
Effie Winn Torrey '40
Neal Perkins '41