Jack Norris (2)
JIM MAYOLA: Monday, December 20, 2010. We’re in the Express Studio at CMC. I’m Jim Mayola. And it’s my pleasure to be talking, again, to Jack.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Jack Norris that is.
JIM MAYOLA: Jack Norris.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah.
JIM MAYOLA: Jack Norris, you got a lot of history. You have an amazing story. And this is going to be part two of your story. We started off with part one. You told a story about growing up in what is now Somerville. And you actually rode down on a mule cart down Main Street when you were a little boy.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah.
JIM MAYOLA: Great story. Everybody should take the time to listen to that story. But you been telling me some other things about what happened to you growing up. And you said that you had a job working at Mathers. Talk about that a little bit.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: I’m going to stop and start again. One hour. No more because these things get boring after a certain point. And toward the end of the first tape, we were, sort of, racing through things and trying to get to the second part.
And I said to myself, oh my golly. I said, stop, and let’s talk about something like Mathers. Well when I was in college, and this was in the 1956 ’57 era, I came home at Christmas. And my mother got me a job at Mathers department store.
JIM MAYOLA: And that was right on Main Street.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Right on Main where Coffee of Music is now.
JIM MAYOLA: [INAUDIBLE].
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Kleenex up there, please?
JIM MAYOLA: Sure.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Thank you. Not that I have anything. I’ve just been out in the cold all morning. Anyhow, it was the best experience. And I was, sort of, a gopher in the store because of a holiday. And there was this beautiful young girl there. Her name was Nancy. Can I give her last night?
JIM MAYOLA: If you want.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah, Nancy Lindsey. And she was one year older. And she was going to the Western Maryland. Well anyhow, it was perfect heaven. And what I did, I did the gopher at work. Then, during the day, we would wrap Christmas presents.
And then, there was an old black truck, I remember. And we would then deliver these Christmas presents over in Westminster. So people could come to Mathers.
JIM MAYOLA: Right.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Get their Christmas presents. And we would wrap them. Then, deliver them to wherever anybody wanted delivery.
JIM MAYOLA: No kidding.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah. And you know, you could go to Hugford and all the rest of them you could get your gift wrapped. But just think, that was a service that Mathers had. And Mathers also, if I’m not mistaken, the family, Manning Parsons, was the last president, he and his sister.
And by the way, Manning went to Trinity where I went to college. And that’s how I got to know Manning. And he was about six years later than me. But they also owned a department store in Frederick. But that had closed. And Mathers was their last store. And this was in, as I say, the late ’50s. Somewhere around ’56, ’57.
I have to tell you about one of life’s darkest moments for me. I took Nancy home to lunch. And nice, nice young woman. I mean, I still have fond memories of her. And as we were walking back, I went to hold her hand.
JIM MAYOLA: Yeah.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: And she looked at me. And she said, that’s just a silly thing to do. You know, in those days, the girl really did control dating situations much more so than the easy come easy go in today’s society. And she turned out, I think, was dating Harvey Bear at the time, in which I didn’t know.
JIM MAYOLA: Yeah.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: And so that’s a little bit of history. Well going back, and reiterating, and going to the ice skating on Thomas Pond, which you had to have a key to do and getting myself to know and befriend the Redi family and Mimi Redi. Then, getting to know Tammy Bixler whose father owned Bixler Drugs and getting all that back into perspective because that’s important because I then went into the service after I graduated from Trinity. And came back home after going through RMAN OCS, which we talked about the last time.
And I called Tanny up. And that’s how I met my wife because, by calling Tanny and Russell– and Murphy Russell was Tanny’s house– Tanny says I know somebody, Jack, you can call. So that begins the next saga as we get into the next phase of this because I never really left Westminster.
I mean, even though my family moved to Baltimore, they then came back to Westminster. But over the years, I was always involved, somehow, coming here. And I mentioned the last time coming back to visit people.
But one of the
of the things I did and have a fond memory of, there used to be the parish hall right behind Ascension Church, and here’s Ascension Church in 1846.
JIM MAYOLA: There it is, OK.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: 1846 it actually started. It’s been in existence for I guess over 160 years. But there was a parish hall almost resembling the architecture of the present stone church, and it was a small place, and that was eventually raised in favor of the big parish hall that’s there now. And I still remember coming up here. I was at McDonough at the time, and my mother engaged me in the dancing classes, and I think a Mrs. Rutan actually taught these dancing classes. And I come up from McDonough to go to the dancing class.
And then, as I said, over the years, we’d come back and see people and finally came back in the late ’50s, and then we were back here into where we are now. Then after my wife and I got married, as I talked about the last time, we were all over the place– New York, Chicago, North Carolina, all these different place, but we’d always returned home for Christmas or something like this. And meantime, Ascension Church was still a part of our life. We got married there on June 18, 1960, and then in 1971 my mother was buried from Ascension, and Ann’s father, the minister, buried him in 1970, and Brooke, her oldest child, was baptized at Ascension in 1963. John, her second child, the minister baptized him because my mother was sick and couldn’t go to the church, and it was down on Guest Road.
And so where I’m coming from, that church has really been a part. Oh, by the way, Ann’s mother was also buried in the church. So that church, part of our total background was always part of our lives, so we kept coming up here for various functions. And it was interesting to note over the years the transition going on and far as traffic up into this neck of the woods, where sometimes, when I was in college I would take the bus. There was a direct bus to Baltimore down at the Greyhound terminal. But eventually, after 1958, there were no more trains because the trains were discontinued, and there was one less passenger train.
So Reistertown Road became actually the aorta, the artery, to bring people up here, and, of course, that became congested and eventually lead to 795, 140. But I remember all these events over the years– 140 going from two lines on Westminster Pike to four lanes, cutting through pasture, no traffic– no traffic, and so to see this. And, as I remember, we would stop at Reistertown Plaza, which was sort of south of Pikesville, and, boy, that was a nice– and I think I mentioned this last time, that was a nice shopping center. They had [INAUDIBLE], I think, Stuart’s or one of the two major chains, Turks, and then finally its demise. And people would go up to Hunt Valley or over to Townsend, but Hunt Valley never was much until now it is. But, at that time, they had a Sears and some other type of stores, but it never really took off into the time frame I’m talking about.
So we would come up and stop at Reistertown Plaza or do something, but we’d always be here. And we’d sort of come the day after Christmas because both sets of parents were here, as I’ve said. My father didn’t die until 1975. And the day after Christmas we would tie it in from a trip from wherever we were, and we would go to Williamsburg for a couple days. So, you know, we were constantly on the road between Westminster and here, leading to finally all the parent now deceased.
My wife and I coming back here in 1987, and we stayed with my wife’s mother at that point. And I was going through a transition after having closed the business and starting up myself again, reinventing myself, and we stayed in Sandymount on old Westminster Pike. And Ann’s mother was an interesting lady. She taught school in the system for 33 years. And she would– I can’t die because he’s already deceased, but she would– I don’t even know how to say it, but she wouldn’t believe I’m going to say what I’m going to say. She was an original, what I call, feminist in the sense– not the Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, but the feminist in the sense she lived on the eastern shore and to come up here in the ’30s to teach school, she would take a train to a location. I don’t know whether it was Cambridge or where it was. I think it was somewhere around that area, and then take a ferry over to Annapolis. Then the Washington and Baltimore Annapolis railroad took a train the Baltimore, which was an inner-urban, then a bus up to Westminster.
Just think of that. In other words, how a person in– here was a woman, and basically women couldn’t do much but be teachers, and she caught, I think, on the other side of Silver Run in a one building schoolhouse. And then eventually, through various [INAUDIBLE] transition got married, and the family lived in Harrisburg. And after that point, then she moved back here, and my wife was born in Harrisburg in 1940 on November 22nd, and that’s when they moved in with the Russell family, which was an old name in the area, and they lived out in the Sandymount Bethel Road area.
Then Ann’s mother built this house on the Westminster Pike, and it’s still there. And this is the house that Ann and I returned to in 1987. And her mother was just a gem of a human being. I mean, really somebody that was well respected in the community, gave 30 some years of service to the school system. And for reasons that I can’t explain, we moved to Green Street, and now we get into the interesting phase of the saga. Because on Green Screen, the first thing I started seeing was vandalism to my house. This was in the early ’90s, 1991 and then other people around me.
Well, we know who the children where. They lived on Westmoreland Street, and this was their passage over to the Union Avenue area through our area. And this vandalism, because it was at this time that police could no longer slap people on the hands and say, go home, and I’m going to tell your parents, they had to have just cause in order to apprehend somebody. And I found out at that point that you can complain as an individual all day long, but until you have a group of people, nobody listens to you.
And finally, these young people kept graffiti on the back of people’s houses, ripping screen doors, coming onto people’s property, just complete disregard for anything private. And it was at that point I began my activism, and I organized the whole community over there. And at that point, I got the police involved, and that’s my beginning of my story with the police department– Major Brewer and Sam Leppo at that time frame– through this activism.
And my thing was at that point, we had had similar situations in Chicago where we lived with kids just having total disregard for property, and I said– I’m in my late 50s, early 60s whenever this was. I said, I’m not going to tolerate this anymore. And everybody, including somebody that had been in the police department that was involved, wouldn’t do anything for fear that these kids would do further retaliation. And I said, I’m not taking it, and that’s when I organize the families. And the city councilman, his first name was Sam, who helped us organize, you ought of heard those people that night. If the parents of these children had heard what some of the– when can I shoot these people? In other words, people had taken their tolerance to the umpteenth level.
One thing I want you to learn out of this possibly, Jim, and I don’t mean to be sort of looking down or this. Everybody can learn from this. The only time that you have to take this type of absolute abuse is– you don’t have to take it, in other words. You don’t have to. You have to organize yourselves. And the only way you organize is with other people within the same cause, and you can do something about it.
JIM MAYOLA: So what was the outcome?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: The outcome was the police got involved because it wasn’t my calling up saying, somebody’s stolen my pumpkin. It wasn’t somebody calling up and saying, they’re lights are gone. Meantime the kids kept expanding because they kept getting away with it. And the juvenile criminal system is terrible, and it is terrible if you read about in the Baltimore Sun and everywhere else. And it was created in a benign time. In other words, kids get into the juvenile system, give them a slap, give them some time.
But the time these kids got into it, they’d already been annoying people for three to four years. From the standpoint of the parents, all three of their children ended up in jail eventually. And it possibly had been a better benign time, and the police could do something. But the juvenile criminal system, it’s still bad. In other words, it gets you in there, but by the time you get in there, you’ve had lots of abuses, and you get a slap in the hand, oh, this is your first time.
And it wasn’t designed for murder and killings and stuff like that, and it needs to be rejuvenized, even today. I mean, if you look at some of these young people in Baltimore, 15, 16, they go into the system, and the system says, OK, you’ve been a juvenile at this point, and your records will be closed. After 21 you get back in society. But that’s not the point. Point is that we need to address the problem for these young people. And so, what used to be stealing something or putting like Tom Sawyer whitewash on a fence, is has become murder and killing some things like that.
And it was at that point into that time frame that I sort of endeared myself to the police department. And, as we talked about earlier, the Westchester Police Department in the early ’90s was rinky-dink in the sense that the bottom floor of the armory downtown Westminster was where the police department was. And Sam Leppo asked me to get Bob Major Brewer, who was the assistant, [INAUDIBLE] which I did at the time. And I went to city council said said, this is something that we need to do. We need to get a new building, and I really feel good about this, even though some people will never give me credit. Nobody likes to give credit.
JIM MAYOLA: Now, you say the police department– was it Longwell Armory?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yes.
JIM MAYOLA: Oh, police department was in the basement Longwell Armory?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah.
JIM MAYOLA: I’ll be darned. I didn’t know that.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah, and I’m saying that figure yourself a criminal from Baltimore coming up here. That reminds me of a story that some guy came up here, and he committed his robbery, and then he couldn’t get a cab to go back to Baltimore. You know, there was no transpiration. But, no, and so I said they needed a presence to anybody who is a criminal that we have an outstanding police department. And as a result of those efforts, I then was asked to be in a Baltimore Sun video, which you’ve seen, and there I am in that video speaking outside the prison and my feelings on what the police department is and why we need it. And we really– Westminster does have a good police department, and if people will notice that many crimes happen without a very soon thereafter apprehensions. And we are very fortunate, and I really feel good about myself having gotten involved at that point and getting the building and the support for the police department.
And then, oh, my golly, this was a sad time. I did a radio show for three years with Dwight Dingle, and it was called Good News With Jack Norris, and I’d start off this radio show, “good news–” this was on Saturday morning, part of this line up on Saturday morning. And he and I would talk about various things. My thing was ‘good news’ and I’d talk about it. Joe Beaver, president of the bank, I would talk about how lucky we are in another time. And the reason I’m bringing that radio show in, don’t ask me how it was, but Dwight and I had a ball. But my wife wanted me to stop it because she said what is good news with all the problems that we’re having in our community, and this was drugs.
And in the– don’t know the specific time frame– I went over to the Jiffy Mart one night in the summer, and this was about 8 o’clock, 9 o’clock at night. I wanted some ice cream. This was three blocks from my house on Green Street, and you can’t imagine what I saw there. Young testosterone-driven males from Baltimore en mass, and it was right afterwards that we had a major drug bust in the city, if you remember. Will you remember this summer? I don’t know the specific time frame.
We actually hit national television on this with Barbara Mikulski involved. And it was a federal, state, county, and city drug bust. That’s how serious it was. And I talked to Sam Leppo into that time frame, and I said, Sam, you know I just don’t feel comfortable walking in the alley at night– the alley between my house and Main Street. And he said, Jack, you’ve got every reason to be concerned. He said, that’s a major drug stash point. And so anyhow, I really got involved at point.
And a lot of the people were annoyed with me, but you have to understand, this was my property, and I didn’t want it to go down in value. And there were a lot of things I wanted, for instance, coordination of services. In other words, instead of having a soup kitchen in one location, a soup kitchen in another location in suburban areas, put it in a centralized point, downtown area. And I got involved in that. Of course, I hit feathers of the soup kitchen days at the one church, and the other church, and all these other things.
But, you know, it was nothing more, which people just didn’t quite understand, I didn’t know want my property to go down in value, and I have a background for this. Because in Baltimore, my parents moved from the Northwood area to West Baltimore, and it was the time of the block-busting in Baltimore. So I saw my neighborhood go from all white basically to the time we left, when my parents came back here, to almost completely African American. So I’ve been involved in an area like that. I saw property values go down for whatever reason, and that’s why I was concerned.
And so my activism kept up. It’s sort of interesting, United Methodist Church had a payphone on Main Street, and I begged the minister, I said, we need to get that payphone, because I’d seen drug deals going on there. And I made an issue of this. And the police department came back on me, and said, Jack, why are you doing this. This is a major focal point for our effort in order to find drug dealers on that– on that payphone. And the payphone’s not there anymore. But, uh, that’s the type– And I wrote a weekly newsletter of all these activities and things like that.
And it was my thing, Jim. I just think this — it’s a shame– that we’ve got a college, McDaniel, formerly Western Maryland, and another college, Carroll Community College– we should be a dynamic downtown area. And we aren’t. I mean, look at the vacant lots. Look at the, you know, the changing environment of the population.
And one of the biggest problems– and I’ve talked as recently as, oh, I guess six months ago to somebody about this– is the state has what they call a livability code. And the livability code is when a person leases an apartment, he has to live up certain standards that the state says have. And Westminster– I think they’re doing something about it now, but didn’t do a thing about this.
And it was a peculiar sort of attitude. It was laissez-faire, Keep government off business. But these people that rented these apartments already we’re getting HUD and federal programs, so it was sort of a hypocrisy. I mean, why shouldn’t government get involved with government activities from this thing. And also, Westminster, probably still today, has a lot of absentee landlords. And so, therefore, these properties have been allowed to run down and not keep up.
And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist at this point, to walk down– especially around the Carroll Theatre north to the college– and on a given night, notice the type of individuals that are wandering around. I wouldn’t want my college student, at the McDaniel, coming down into the Westminster area, walking at night. I really wouldn’t. And so– I mean, this is just an opinion. Other people may think it’s safe, but it– it’s still there.
I mean, and– so the things I fought for in the ’90s– and, uh, uh, uh, and finally we moved –are still a problem today. It’s just that the population has shifted. And it’s– it’s– it’s, uh– it’s not, you know, the same as it was then.
And it used to be that being poor was not a stigma in Westminster. In fact, one of the biggest poverty areas is up where the 7-Eleven is, in the ’30s. And that was a lot of people. But people, just because they were poor, it wasn’t a stigma. And today, for whatever reason, there is a– a subclass of population. And this subclass population is living in rented property throughout the city of Westminster. So a lot of the things I got involved in are still a problem, still being addressed.
And once — Suzanne Albert, who’s still on the, uh, uh, Westminster City Council– Oh, nobody [INAUDIBLE] and, oh, boy, nobody else has complained, Jack. And once again, you have to be united, as part of a group, and get involved on this thing.
I have to tell you a funny story about Tom Barrett. In the early ’90s, I said one of the major problems going to be facing Westminster is water. Guess what? It’s water. Three years — four years ago, when we had a drought, water was a major, major problem. And it was funny that I– In fact, Damian Halstad, uh, came to me. He was, uh, uh, on the city council and also, um, uh, I guess in charge of the city council, whatever the title is. Damian, paid me the ultimate compliment. He said, Jack, maybe we should listened to you in the early ’90s. Maybe that could be it.
So anyhow the sojourn continued from that point. And I’ve been an activist my whole life. And two reasons for my being an activist– and I think maybe I brought this up the first time–
When I was getting a check, I’d get my net check, and I never thought about taxes. When I ran my business, I started seeing this money go out to government. And then I saw my FICA contribution, in addition to that going out. That’s when I got involved. This was the early ’70s. Then I had another — and I don’t think I’ve described this– I may have. If I’m being redundant, you will have remembered this story.
I was with my wife– just– just– I’m — I’m thinking– what– did I tell about my Nashville experience, being held up on the street? You sure? I may have told somebody else this story. But the– and this is gonna explain my activism, and– and why I’ve gotten involved.
My wife and I took a weekend. Because we have two children in Birmingham, we took the train up to Nashville. And we had a wonderful time. One of the best martinis I’ve ever had was at the Hermitage, at the, uh, hotel. And, uh– God, that was good- I still remember it with that big olive. And uh– and uh– [LAUGHS]
But anyhow, that Sunday, we decided to go to a museum. And, um– and then, uh, in walking to that museum, we notice this man coming up the street. And– have you seen those westerns with the long coats that the western cowboys wear? And– and– Well, this guy was coming up the street. And suddenly he was square in– in our world.
Now this was opposite the Greyhound bus station, but this wasn’t the time where the Greyhound bus station was in the wrong part of town. This guy pulls a rifle on us. And there is this rifle at my stomach. And he asked me if I believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. I wouldn’t believed with anything at that point, with this rifle sticking at my gut.
And I said, Look. I said, I don’t care if you kill me. I said, please let my wife go. We’ve got two children. And he let her go. And, uh, and I said, OK. I mean, I– I was cool as a cucumber. It wasn’t until later the next week, I started trembling.
And I said, you know, OK, but I wish you’d let me go. He said, You go too! Follow her. Well, I didn’t realize he was trying to kill me, as I was running across. But he was trying to club me with this weapon, as I was going across the street.
Well, long story short, it was a misdemeanour, because it was a toy rifle that he had stolen from a penny arca– arcade. To me, who hadn’t been in the service, it looked like a car beam sticking at my stomach, and so therefore, I thought it was a real rifle.
And– and so that story is the reason why I have a real, almost, phobia about criminals. And so therefore, you could possibly understand my activism, with what I’ve considered to be dangerous-type people at the Jiffy Mart, going back earlier in this presentation.
Then, those net taxes and paying those net taxes. So those two things are the reason that I am what I am with the activism. And maybe I have some genes which prompted my A personality, then– maybe that had something to do with it too. But that explains the reason for this– And I’m going to end this. How long have we been now?
JIM MAYOLA: About 30 minutes.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: 30 minutes. Well, it’s going to end, because I don’t have that much more to say, because– I–
JIM MAYOLA: I’d like to talk a little bit about, um, the, uh, Union Mills Homestead.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: OK. Well, let me go then to the steps to that, OK? We moved over to Willis Street, in the anticipation of going back to Birmingham, where our children were. And we lived at what is called the Promise Apartments. This is right opposite the area where Myers funeral home is. There’s an apartment house that became a condominium. Then from there, we moved to where we live now on Fairfield Avenue.
And I want to discuss this Pops in another perspective. But I’m going to get into this, well, anyhow– I– my business closed in 1970– I mean, 1994. Now I’m not going to go in all the rest of this, because this is going to be part of my next reinventing myself– and that’s important to me– because I want to give something back to the community through this media mode.
I tried volunteerism. And I’m possibly the only person I know that’s ever been fired as a volunteer. But I’ve got fired twice. And I was at the hospital. And, uh, and I– I was enthusiastic. I was running around, with my blood, racing around the hallways. And the head administrator of this program, I said, Boy, you look nice today.
Well, to the older women in the group, this is what is not expected of somebody as a volunteer. And in other words, they didn’t think it was right that I should be complementing– Of course, I’ve never been politically correct, anyhow. And, uh– And, uh– so anyhow, I ended my career as a volunteer in the hospital.
And– then I went to the fire museum. Now I’d been a Santa Claus there for three years, but I didn’t have a good feeling, being a Santa Claus. I didn’t like the whole general public. I went out to Union Mills and was a Santa Claus out there for 10 years. But I had a better feeling of the type of people out there, versus the general public, versus a certain type of public. Uh, uh, I just– I enjoyed it better. I guess that’s the way to say it.
But anyhow– I was a volunteer at the fire museum. Well, I– I know how to make kids happy– I’m sorry– I know how to make kids happy, going through. And, uh– and, uh, so boy, I had a– I said, I can’t hear you. And the– [LAUGHING] I can’t hear you. Well, anyhow, the other volunteers at the fire mu– This isn’t the way this should be. They should be reserved. Well, how can you be reserved to second graders. I don’t know. But, anyhow, you– you want second graders have a good time.
And then they wanted me to wear this little outfit with these little, um, sort of, leggings and stuff. And I said– So anyhow, I was fired from the fire museum. So, for two different volunteer groups. And, uh, this leads– and I want to talk about a thematic editorial in closing today.
And so anyhow, Union Mills had Pops. Perhaps the best, best thing I’ve ever done in my life. Here’s the newspaper article. Probably the best, best thing I’ve ever done in my life. And, oh, I don’t know. I’ve done a lot of great things. But this just really makes me feel good.
Because I was a volunteer out there. I was Santa Claus for 10, 12 years, and I stopped doing that. And then I– in the last several years, I started being a volunteer. Well, I’d take these school groups through, and I wasn’t relating to them.
And there was a schoolteacher from Calvert School that came in one day and, honest to Pete, that man’s enthusiasm– He’d been there before. And Jane Sewell, who’s the executive director out there– Oh, golly, she’s a wonderful human being– and, uh, she teaches at Calvert School also. And, um, Jane, um– Anyhow, I said, Jane, I’ve got this program. And I said, I saw this schoolteacher from Calvert–
Well, he he went in– in the first room there. The power 1866, [INAUDIBLE], and pulled those Norman Rockwell, uh, publications that were in that room. And he put a fire into these kids about Norman Rockwell that you just can’t believe. And he– and you know, I was incidental to my script. [BRUP, BRUP, BRUP, BRUP, BRUP,BRUP] And we went upstairs to the children’s room, and he got down on his hands and knees, said, This is a rope bed. And discussed it– and these kids were just enraptured.
And I said, you know, if he can do that, then– I have my 17 years of Sunday school– I can do this too. I went to Jane’s school, and God bless her. I mean, I just can’t say enough nice things.
Most administrators don’t want somebody underneath, doing something. I mean, you– if you were in government for 30 — it– uh, you know what I’m talking about. There’s– you don’t want somebody to take independent initiative. You just don’t want it, because you don’t know. But Jane gave me free hand.
Well, it turned out to be one of the blessings of the Homestead last year. Now how I garnered the publicity this year, I don’t know. I’m not going to get another newspaper article. That’s for sure. But, uh, anyhow– that started it off.
Well, anyhow– when a child or– and I zeroed in on second graders through six graders- yawns, when they yawn. [AAAARGH] I’d jumped up and down. [PHEEWW] I’d blow a whistle. Well, anyhow, nobody wants to yawn. And so they keep their mindset on this thing. And, uh, and you know, I– I had some disadvantaged children and I realized I’d, you know, I’d pull back on that type of antic, and stuff like that.
And then, when we got into the room with the 1910 phonograph, where you wind up. Um, I then brought out my portable radio and played a Johnny Cash song. And so they take what was then, to today, and they’re starting to learn about history.
And then we got into the room with the 1900 Brownie. And I brought out my digital camera, and took a picture of these children. And so on, and so on. And I had pictures of things.
And, uh, and then I’d burst out in song. And I’d talk about the 1890, uh, beaver hat. And I’d go, [SINGING] In your Easter bonnet, I’ll be wearing my 1890 beaver hat. And I’d show a man a picture in the- in there. And I kept this up, all the way through.
And I’d zero in on Jeb Stuart coming there. Because all this history unfolds in 45 minutes. The Civil War. The phonograph. And how Bessie, uh, Bessie Kemp kept all these things is unbel- believable to me. And– and then we got upstairs, and I’d start singing again. And, uh, and– [LAUGHS] never knew what I was going to do.
And I put all this thing together in a format, and the result is history because these kids– I mean, it was the biggest [INAUDIBLE] attendance last year. And, um, the– Cora Collins, and Jane Sewell– Dan Cox and I were awarded the Volunteers of the Year award. And that was the most reluctant award, I think I’ve ever gotten in my life.
JIM MAYOLA: Why is that?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: I didn’t want any rewards. Seeing those kids’ faces is all I wanted. And I– I– tell Jane about this. I didn’t want a $50 gift certificate because, you know, volunteers work so hard. And why should I get $50? I mean, not that I didn’t enjoy it– we are going to enjoy it. We have something specific we’re going to do with it.
But I didn’t want it. It was the first time in my life. I mean, I just the– the feeling of these children, being there, and their smiles. Oh, my God. I mean– their smiles. These — did this– this first day– these children, they couldn’t stop laughing. And I had to– I had to regroup on several occasions. To– to– to get this thing done, so– And then I’m going to leave with the final story–
JIM MAYOLA: But your approach, then, was to make history interesting for these children, make it exciting and enjoyable.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: 45 minutes of history.
JIM MAYOLA: By making it entertaining.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yes. They– they– you know, you– you know grandchildren or children. Look at their– they’re constantly being amused. And then I give a little– give away a little present, at the end, a little pencil and something, so– And then I– you know, in other words, they get a little present. They– they go through, and they laugh. They’re entertained.
That’s like the Church of the Open Door, and some of these type of churches. They bring people in using modern media techniques, and music to present a message. And you know, like the Roman Catholic Church, with the, um, uh, rock mass. I mean, this is how you get to people today. You don’t– Look, like what you’re doing. It’s media. It’s– it’s the sophistication that’s in the world today. And so this is what Pops in Union Mills was all about. And–
JIM MAYOLA: How did you pick Pops?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Well, my grandchildren gave me a shirt. And it says Pops on the back. And I said, Gee– And they call me Pops. So I wear this shirt that says Pops. And I started off. I– when I go in– when– We’re going to be redundant on this other program, OK?
Um, I’d get them on the porch, and we’d set the mode. And I said that road out there used to be a major highway for stagecoaches and wagons. And this was the start of the Shriver business out here.
And they had a blacksmith shop. They had a cooper. Now cooper is somebody that makes barrels. And this was the road they took, and that’s where it is. Then what you’re doing here, sitting here on this porch, is the way people entertained themselves, sitting after a Sunday meal and enjoying yourself without television [INAUDIBLE].
Now I’m gonna take you in. And Bessie and her family welcome you into their house, as it was. And it’s like no other museum I’ve ever been to. It’s– it’s a living museum.
JIM MAYOLA: So the idea was to make the children comfortable. So they all have– most– usually have grandfathers, grandparents, and Pops is something that they’d be comfortable with. So you establish that right away while they’re outside and then take them inside to your home.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah. Yeah, don’t ask me– and I’m going to talk–
JIM MAYOLA: And– and it worked.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Oh, it worked. Of course it did. I mean– I mean, I– I mean, I’ve seen it happen. And this is what we’re going to talk about the next time, but you don’t have to be 74 and put, like an ostrich, your head in the sand. You can still be involved using all the things that you have learned in your life, and relating them to today.
I’m gonna tell you one final story, and get back, um, to when all this time crime was going on in Westminster– and you might be able to put this and edit it back in– Dean Minnich did an editorial about me at that point when he was writing for the Carroll County Times. And if you Dean Minnich’s history, he was with the Baltimore American with newspaper. And then he came up here, and did some editorial writing for the Carroll County Times.
Of course, then he eventually became commissioner. And he did an editorial about me and my don Qui– don– he didn’t use the word don Quixote and Cervantes’ approach to life. In other words, to my windmills I’m going after in search of Dulcinea. No, he brought in my experience in Nashville, and why I was what I am. And this editorial– I think I still have a copy– I should have a copy of that.
But, uh, anyhow, that was the inspiration and I don’t think he ever thought I’d use this as my launching tool on everything I did. And– Dean– uh, and I think he– sort of, may have even got annoyed with it. But it gave me a perfect– In other words, I use newspaper articles and stuff as a tool to further whatever else I’m doing, like the– uh, like I’m going to show you next time with a pamphlet, and some other things so– But anyhow that’s sort of an interesting story of how that editorial was in the Carroll County Times sort of thing.
JIM MAYOLA: So um, as we conclude our interview today, um, you’ve been around for a long time and you’ve seen a lot of changes in the community. A lot of things have happened. What do you think about the quality of life in Carroll County. Is it getting better?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: No.
JIM MAYOLA: I know we’ve got a sour economy right now, and it’s got to be tough. And that’s got to be– that’s got to be a factor.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Well, I think something’s been lost. You know, I didn’t think so, at the time– And don’t think I’m an old fogey in my thinking at this time– but the ’50s really weren’t a bad time. I mean, you grew up, possibly non-thinking, you weren’t aware of all the things going on. But you had hope. You had aspirations.
And there was a song, came out, Ticky- little– ticky- tacky little house and it was the Levittown scenario. And what you did, you got married, and look today up, forget it, there’s a number of unmarried couples. It’s over 60% of the population, or something like that. But, um, you got married, had a child, put money into a savings account, got a beginner house in Levittown. Then you built up.
And there was hope. There was future. And you– and it was the beginning of happiness. After the war– I mean, we had gotten through the war, economy was starting to boom again. And we took off. And it was simple. It was simple. I mean, we had a black and white TV set in our house on Guest Road.
On that fantastic football game, what was it, 1958? I think– yeah, it was 1958. The- The, uh, uh, Baltimore Colts and the, uh, New York Giants, and Alan Ameche, and Johnny Unitas and– Golly, my mother was having a Christmas party that night, and– you know, just the excitement and, and, and the feeling and the black and white TV. And happy with that black and white TV.
And, uh, and you know, and of course, the Colts were– you know, it’s not like today with these multimillion dollar guys. And these guys went out in the community and had their hot dogs and, went to Harry’s and went to Baugher’s and stuff like that.
And– But everybody had a good feeling if you lived in Westminster, you were– Doc Janette was the team doctor. And Doc Janette at the time was very good friends with my family. So I’m saying the ’50s, at the time, seemed like a horrible time, but looking back on it, it wasn’t really such a bad time. And in comparison, go out on 140, at any given moment– I mean, if you’re on the side of town of where the Safeway is, and– and going out in that direction to Uniontown, it takes you almost 15 minutes to get over to the other side of town where Target is.
And so yeah, we’ve got so much more and we’ve got stores and supermarkets, but are we that much happier. I don’t know. I don’t think so. I– uh, and I– young people today, they’ve got more freedoms than they’ve ever had. But going out of college, and seeing these young people, I feel sorry for them, Jim. Because they don’t have the hope that we had.
You get your college degree– I had a history, undergraduate. I had three or four job opportunities. But they aren’t going to get that with the liberal arts degree. They’re going to have to get a master’s degree. They’re [INAUDIBLE].
I liken this story what I’m talking about right now, the way my son graduated from Wake — I forget how many students, a couple thousand– In the meantime, the same weekend, North Carolina was graduating an umpteen number of– North Carolina State– just into that Raleigh, Durham– Durham– uh, uh, Winston-Salem area — my God, 10,000 liberal arts graduates.
JIM MAYOLA: In a week.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: In a week. That was that one area. And so, are people happier? I– I don’t know. I don’t– I don’t– One of the ni– young– nicest young men that I’ve seen at school– these kids talk to me all the time out there– I– I’m going to bring up in my next session of going back to college– And, uh, he said, Look, Jack, I’m really depressed. And there’s a lot of depression amongst young people.
And– and you know, it used to be that the husband worked and the wife stayed at home, but the tax situation made it necessary for the woman to got out, so you’d need two incomes just to survive. So what does this mean? That means, that people are working all the time, and they don’t have time for their families. And they put the kids into –to– day care centers.
So you asked me whether I have– have a feeling that people are happier. And– and as I talk to people, everybody I talked to, older people– what’s going to happen, and how’s it going to happen– You know, just like this morning, in the Baltimore Sun, they’re talking about doing away with your tax deduction for a mortgage. That’s sort of scary. Like my son, and you know, and– and– my daughter and their families, they’re depending on that, to net out better. And now the government’s talking about– uh–
Look at the government, um– and I’m a libertarian in viewpoint and that way, that way– fiscally responsible– but look at what they were going to do about this is estate tax. They brought it all the way down to $1 million. And you know, the people that they’re making– 10, 20– lots of money– they don’t care, at that point, with the 55%– But government is so much involved in our lives. I mean–
JIM MAYOLA: But, Jack, what you’re talking about is not– is not a Westminster situation, or a Carroll County situation. It’s an– it’s– it’s our culture. It’s a cultural situation. So you’re talking about our culture’s change, since the ’50s to today. What can we do about this?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Oh I– Jim, I think it starts, not necessary with the conservative, evangelistic type of approach God that’s necessary. It has to start with values. And, you know, in our way, we’ve gotten away from values. It’s OK to go out and have sex. You don’t have to be married. The pill in 1960 changed all that.
And so now, you know, girls are free to do whatever [INAUDIBLE] Remember that story I told you about the young girl said, oh, that’s silly to hold my hand. Girls did control that situation, believe me, they did in those days, OK? And I’m just saying values.
You know, maybe I was talking on an overall viewpoint. But Carroll County, is this a nicer place up here? You’ve seen it change in the last– Farmland being developed developed. Walmarts– I mean, just everything. It’s just we’re into– my God, can’t we slow down? Can’t we, like Union Mills, in 1866, sit on a porch and just enjoy a Sunday after–
We’ve only had one time– and this was in the early ’70s– uh, when Jimmy Carter, uh, imposed these 55 miles speed limit– I think it was Jimmy Carter’s administration– and people couldn’t get gas. And I think it was Jimmy Carter’s administration.
I’m not so sure, but it was into that time frame, because I’ve got my one speeding ticket. And– Because I was going 70 miles coming into Bessemer, Alabama. And, uh uh, it had– it had just changed. That’s how I remember. Some events just stick in your mind.
And, uh– and, uh– anyhow, people were forced to stay home. And I think we need a good dose of that today. And we don’t– as a nation, don’t respect other people’s values.
I mean. who are we to go over into the Muslim world and say, Gee, women ought to do this. Women ought to do that. Those people truly don’t understand the Muslim culture, which is not only a religion, but it’s a way of governing. And who are we to tell somebody else that you know, you can’t do this. I mean, it’s– and we have no respect. Nobody has any respect.
JIM MAYOLA: So let me ask you this, Jack. If you were going to offer some advice to a young person, one of these college students that’s getting ready to get a degree and get out on their own, and maybe try to buy a house and try to buy a car and try to, um, raise a family, what advice would you give them?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: I do it all the time, Jim. Um, I’d recommend that they don’t get liberal arts degrees. um, I’d recommend when I– Oh, I’ll give you an– just a classic example of a young person. I can’t mention her name. I don’t think- I don’t think that would be wise.
I liked her right of the bat. Hi, Jack! she said to me one day. And– and had a personality. That girl has her head on her shoulders. You got to start getting focused, number one. You can’t willy-nilly walk through, with an opportunity standing you in the face.
And I’m going to University of Maryland. And that’s what she’s going to do. And she has her outline of exactly what she wants to do. She this programmed. She is thinking ahead.
My great nephew has beautiful young lady that he’s dating. He’s– And he’s 30. She’s now going into a residency. You’ve got to stay focused. Um, instead of sitting around, doing nothing, try to zero into a summer job that you’re interested in, that could relate on a resume, that you could take after you graduate, saying I’ve been working into this type of capacity and growing into this capacity. And I’m saying, so therefore, you stay focused. You have a goal.
But these young people, I mean, Dr. Papalatter, um, mentioned that, you know, retention and– you’ve got students out at the community colleges that go to school, and– and they’re there four or five terms, just taking courses. And one– one young person, just as smart she could be, taking Chinese. And in to her second year of Chinese, writes– and I told one of the teachers because he had a discussion board blog. And I felt like an amateur in my writing in comparison to this young person.
Oh I don’t want to get a degree, because I’d have to take math. The math requirement. And I sai– I said, you know, what you’ve got to do, if you’re that concerned about math– take it on an audit basis, get through your scares, and then go on. You can’t believe the young people I’m counseling. I mean, I’ve had 17 years in the recruiting business. And you know who they are. They could be a pain in the neck to human resource [INAUDIBLE] but um–
JIM MAYOLA: So you’re saying then that, uh, uh, a young person should try to figure out what they want to do, um, by experimentation, a little bit. If you have an idea that you want to do something, or want to– want to have a career in something, find a summer job that will allow you to exercise some of that, to learn about that, to make sure that there’s– it’s a nice fit for you. And then, it also looks good on a resume, because that’s experience that you have in that field. Well, anything you do is going to look good on resume. It’s going to be something.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Anything, anything. And as I talked to– that I’m gonna to talk about next time– these people got to wake up about these daggone F’s to on these– on these transcripts. And you and I just talked about that before– I mean, you know, I don’t care whether you go to McDaniel, or where you go, that F on that resume, is a– it’s going to be there forever on that thing.
JIM MAYOLA: So what other advice– what other advice for a young person that is, um, going to start a family and start a career?
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Well, this is interesting. I’m in my philosophy course, one day, and this young girl– this young guy said, oh, I want to get a job, so I could support my family. And this girl said, Oh, that’s what I want is to be supported. Well, that’s not today’s world. And he had– and that young person– Oh, I’m gonna major in history. And I’ll give you a story about that. And, uh, uh, you– I don’t care who you are. It’s not like it used to be. Everybody, male or female, has to stand on their own two feet. You’ve got to get as much education as you can. You’ve got to get yourself in–
The competition is not in the United States. It’s a worldwide competition. And, um, it’s– We as a country are– are– we don’t have jobs like we used to. And there aren’t ever going to be these jobs again. I mean, we used to be a major steel company in Baltimore, Bethlehem Steel. And go down to Hickory, North Carolina where we lived– big textile area. No more textiles there. And, you know, the Walmarts of the world have as much to do with outsourcing jobs as anybody, now. True, we get cheap prices in return, but now we’ve built up China, uh, who is now manufacturing textiles and steel, and stuff like that.
So these young people have got to be able to compete. And they’ve got to be able to compete in engineering-related type subjects. Um, they’ve got them– to be able to understand if they can go out on their own, which I’ve had the privilege of doing. That is a ultimate salvation.
There’s nothing wrong with being a plumber. There’s nothing wrong with being an electrician. Used to be a statement of the electrician. He wanted his son to go to college, so that he didn’t– his son wouldn’t have to do it.
And young people today– I’m fortunate. Both of my children are better off than I am. But it’s not always going to be that way. The African American community has learned that the hardest way on this thing. Is that the people that have risen above the inner cities, have gone to college, that their children are not going to be able to have as good a life or better life. It’s really phenomenal going on, on the inner cities, at this point.
So, you know, it’s a world that I don’t understand. It’s a world that’s changing. It’s a world that we are no longer a major factor as a country. We’re starting to– into the descent of being almost a second rate power. And I think I’m scared for my children, grandchildren.
I’ll give you a story about my own son. And I can be all talk on this, OK? But my son is an extremely smart guy. He’s now a director of trust department and part of a bank that actually started in the middle of all this. And it’s one the top growing banks– I mean, not large-wise, but in the country right now, and he’s part of this. Did it on his own.
But he screwed around in school. And he had himself one heck of a good time. But fortunately, he went to a good school. A name school such as Wake Forest University. That’s another thing. Young people– That college where you go, like, University of Baltimore– um, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, I think it is. UMBC. That happens to be one of the better, up and coming schools in the whole United States. And I’m saying, you need to get a credential of a good name school.
And so that was in his saving grace. And he screwed around, and we finally got him into law school, at a second tier law school. And I’m talking first tier, uh, you know, Harvard, Dartmouth. He is third tier law school, and University of Baltimore’s, you know, second tier. That’s a good law school, by the way.
And, uh– and, uh– he got a 2.8, which at Wake Forest, cum laude was 3.0. If he applied himself, he would have done that– Well, he got in this school, law school– He didn’t flunk out, but he got a 2.5. And, he came home after four years and graduation, and one year of law school.
And, uh, we were a Green Street at the time, and it’s the day of reckoning, he calls it. I said– he said– I said, What are you going to do, John? I’m going to get a job, $80,000 a year. Well, an $80,000 a year job is still a good job. Median income in Carroll County I think 69,000 or something like that. That was a recent report.
And so 80,000– when you take a median is the extremes. You can have that extreme, that extreme, and the median takes all that, and the median income is the right in between. Something about statistics that I remember.
And, uh, I said, You’re going to go back to school. I don’t think like this! His day of reckoning– he walked out of that house. And I didn’t know where he was going to go, or what he was going to do and I was panicked.
Well, he did go back to school. And he got 4.0 down at University of Baltimore in prerequisites. Yeah. And then he got a summer job with Mercantile, because I had some accounts. And that was at a time, that a normal account was worthwhile. Now, unless you have $5 million, $8 million, they don’t care about you anymore. And, uh– those big banks they don’t care.
Anyhow, he got a job. He did very well. And then he came back. They asked him to comeback, but into the trust department. And Mercantile had one of the foremost trust departments in the United States. And he did so well in that, that they offered him a job before you got his MBA at University of Baltimore. And he has parlayed that into what he is today.
And I’m saying, hopefully, a young person can learn from my own son’s experience. Don’t get to that state. And– because a lot of these people I see out at this school, are even worse shape.
JIM MAYOLA: In other words, take it seriously.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah. It’s no longer fun and games with this– um, um, I mean, you can still go to college and have fun, like my grandson is. He’s at Alabama, but– Uh, but, uh– but I’m going to end this–
JIM MAYOLA: It’s your future.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah. Yeah. This is a whole separate topic that we’ve covered here today. I mean, this is almost independent of everything else we’ve done. But I’m going to make a point of this. You’ve seen a lot of guys come and go and a lot of women come and go here. But if you listen to me– I’m 74 years old. I’m probably more current than most younger people. And the only reason I’m current is I force myself to be current and going back to college.
I think a guy named Kauffmann wrote this, that you’ve got two selves. [INAUDIBLE]. I took a philosophy course. I’m going to sound really erudite right now. And, uh, you got your inner self and– there were two people and I can’t– I’m caught off guard on this, but the idea was– and I wrote on my paper– all these subjects keep coming up but, uh–
You’ve got outer self. Well, I’m 74, so I’m an old man. And as I wrote on this paper, I’m one of those gray-haired people that young people hate to see and honk their horns and get road rage at. But underneath, I’m a 25-year-old, just bursting to come out. And that’s something I just learned from philosophy this term.
And I’m going to leave you with one final thought, young people. I went into this class– I go in every one of my classes and I’m going to do work. I’m going to do something. Well, I realize, if I were going to do these readings on Kauffmann and Rogers and Plato and, uh, Freud and Kant and all these guys– there was no way in God’s world, you couldn’t understand it, unless you did as the teacher wanted you to do. Turn in a paper every week on what you had read that week.
Because there’s just no way, that you could understand these guys. And you would casually read it. But– but going in, they’ve got such tools. You go into the internet. And that’s how I studied my philosophy course, and I pulled up something written in the day, on Wikipedia. And you pull something that you read today, then relate it to that.
Well, anyhow, I did all this work, turned in all these papers. And this young person says, You’re going to do what? I said, Yeah, I’m going to turn in these– I can’t believe you’re doing that and not even getting credit for it.
But that is the prevailing attitude. You know, you know– wanting to learn is– is a real gift at my age. To be able to go back and take a philosophy course. I would’ve been afraid to take in the ’50s. I would have flunked this course in the ’50s. As it is, I took courses where I knew I would get good grades. I had to take things like calculus, and things like that. And bottom line of this– and I mean– and I mean, this isn’t any big deal, but I was 19 out of 169, so it’s not bad.
JIM MAYOLA: Everybody wants to know what’s in it for me. Everybody wants to know what’s in it for me in the end.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Self centered.
JIM MAYOLA: And– and– and what you’re saying, what’s in it for you, is to learn.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Yeah, yeah.
JIM MAYOLA: And– and sometimes, that’s enough. And quite frankly, if you learn, you can grow. And that’s got value, in and of itself.
JOHN “JACK” NORRIS: Jim, as I said, how many guys my age are walking in here, being able to talk this way. The only reason– I’m back in school.
JIM MAYOLA: Jack, I want to thank you. It was a very interesting discussion today.