A Special Tribute to Norm

This month our newsletter pays a special tribute to one of our most loved participants at the time of his birthday. He has long been a socially active member of the Mid-Hudson Valley, and for this reason we thought it fitting to share some of his life and work with you.

Our dear Norm (Kaiser) often refers to himself as “The Norm…or “One Cool Dude”. As some of the details of his previous personal life have unraveled we’ve learned that he surely was (and continues to be) very cool, indeed!

Norm was born on the outskirts of Philadelphia. His mother practiced the Quaker faith, while his father was Dutch Reform. At the age of twenty-three he led a Quaker work camp where his job was to develop a recreational program for young people, and it was there that he first met his wife-to-be, where she, only seventeen at the time, was a participant. It was seven years later that they literally bumped into one another while participating in a circle dance at a Columbia University mixer. They married in 1957, had one son together and also adopted a foster daughter from Uganda. They will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this coming summer!

Norm’s father ran a camp for children and he spent much time there where his love of the outdoors and sports was cultivated. Particularly, he relished running, which later became his most loved sport. He partook in many 5 and 10K races, usually placing first or second…minimally, third place (earning likely 50 trophies) and to this day the joy he experiences when exercising on any level is always apparent. At Friends and Family he is one of our most capable ping-pong players, possessing the physical stamina to play for hours, non-stop. He throws a fine curve ball, making a fierce and worthy opponent!

Norm attended and later graduated from the esteemed Columbia University in New York City to earn his master’s degree in American History, after which he went on to teach this subject on the middle school level. He taught the first Black History and Culture course in our valley at the Oakwood Friends Quaker School and may likely have been one of the first to teach a course honoring Black history to students of this age group at all. There he threw himself into his work, with the intent of enlightening the minds of young people, hoping to make a positive contribution. Surely, he reached many, but after awhile he learned that for him, teaching middle school students, many of which didn’t share his love of history, (or of being in the classroom) did not fulfill his desire to do truly relevant work. He wanted very much to have his life make a profound positive difference in the lives of others.

He found his truer “calling” when leaving teaching to work with Family of Woodstock. There he served as a caseworker with Ulster County’s troubled youths and offenders of the law. He dedicated himself to seeking out programs and counseling for the young people there, hoping to get them on a more sound footing which might keep them out of trouble. The program began in 1992 and is centered on those who are serving time at the Ulster County Jail, and was founded by the New York State Commission of Corrections and Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives.

Most who have had the fortune of working with Norm have said his easy going manner (with which we are all familiar) allowed those he tried to help feel relaxed in his presence, and that this gave Norm an edge getting through to some very troubled children and adults where others had no luck. Norm had the gift of being able to “shoot the breeze” with anyone and about anything, it seemed. He was there to turn to when just about everyone else had given up. The youths he worked with understood all they needed to do was ask Norm for his help and he’d be “there” for them. Simply put, “he cared”…100%… and all felt that without question. They believed he looked after them which was something most had not known in their past, but clearly craved.
Norm’s life is an example of a life well-lived: meaningfully, gracefully, giving…and receiving. We feel so honored to have learned more about him and fortunate that he is sharing his days with us.