New England loses an endearing personality

The impact of some people we know isn’t truly felt until after they’re gone.

Myself, and I’m certain the entire city of New England, feels this after the death of Norma Peterson.

Norma was the longtime editor and then publisher of The Herald weekly newspaper that serves Hettinger and Slope counties. She died June 7 after a courageous 16-month battle with lung cancer.

When you think about the career you’re in, it is often difficult to remember where the seeds are sown.

You remember mentors and what they taught you, but it’s only when you sit back and reflect that you realize perhaps their mannerisms rubbed off on you.

Norma and Darlene Gullickson were the first bosses I had in the newspaper industry. As editor of The Herald, Norma was the one who taught me that there was no time to sit around while working at a newspaper. She further implanted that mindset in me when I returned for a six-week stint as the newspaper’s editor immediately after finishing college.

It was always go, go, go. There was always something to be done. There was no time to sit around and chat. Sure, there was time to laugh and time to have fun — and boy did Norma love to laugh — but there was a job to be done too. She would have thrived at a daily newspaper.

Maybe the most endearing part of Norma’s personality was that she was a spitfire and a true tell-it-like-it-is lady.

At her prayer service Wednesday, one of Norma’s relatives told a story about how she “took care of” a neighborhood boy who was bullying him. For those who knew Norma, that isn’t hard to imagine. Even though she was a 5-foot-3 lady who probably tipped the scales at 100 pounds soaking wet, Norma was someone you didn’t want on your bad side.

Both outside and inside the newspaper, she fought for and championed veterans and servicemembers because she understood first-hand what their families had gone through or were going through, especially during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She encouraged Red Shirt Friday in honor of servicemen and servicewomen.

Norma’s sons, Dallas and Travis, are career military men and she was more proud of their accomplishments and service than any mother I have ever met. Despite being deployed to the Middle East, both men were able to return home for their mother’s funeral last week.

Dallas left his Army unit in Kuwait and Travis, in the Air Force, made it here from Afghanistan after some help from his buddies and several stops along the way.

These men make their living as warriors, which they obviously got from their mother because Norma fought cancer like she was Muhammad Ali and it was Joe Frazier. She had no fear, even though the initial diagnosis was far from hopeful. A woman with deep faith in God, Norma never let on if she was feeling bad or if the cancer was getting to her.

Even at a benefit lunch in May — the last time I spoke with her and hugged her — she seemed like the typical ball of energy she always was, despite the cancer having clearly taken an exhaustive toll on her already petite frame.

After finding out she was in home hospice care, I kept saying that I needed to go see Norma.

It never happened, and for that I will be forever saddened. I wanted to tell her she had to hang in there so she could dance with me at my wedding next summer. I wanted to introduce her to my dog, because I knew she would have gotten a kick out of his unbridled happiness.

This week, three southwest North Dakota communities endured losing residents to untimely deaths.

It should be a sign telling us that we should never wait to tell someone we care about them, that we love them or that when they’re gone, they will be missed.

Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at dmonke@thedickinsonpress or tweet him at monkebusiness.

Author: Dustin Monke

Former newspaper editor. Now I market the best baked goods and donuts in America. But every once in a while, I write a cool story too.

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