by Debbonnaire Kovacs

by Debbonnaire Kovacs
submitted July 9, 2014

When we read about the difficulties that come along with aging, one of the items mentioned most frequently is feeling useless, as if there is nothing important left to do, or that the aging person is able to do. One of the suggestions often put forward is volunteering. Obviously, the ways in which a person could volunteer will be dependent upon their health and strength, but there is often something even the feeblest and frailest can do. My grandmother, bedridden and speechless for three years after a major stroke, spent those years in prayer.
Centenarian Vera Norman, of Newark, OH, would tell you that following a faithful vegetarian diet and the biblical health rules will keep you strong enough to do much more than that. She is, according to her pastor, Tom Hughes, “quite militant about sharing that.” Of course there are those vegetarians who could tell her that there are other factors at work and vegetarianism is not infallible, but for Norman, who turned 100 on May 21, it works.
She still drives herself everywhere, and volunteering is crucial to what she does. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, she spends a few hours at the Carousel Thrift Shop at the Adventist Community Services Center in her town. According to an article in the Newark Advocate on May 31, 2014, “Norman works in a small room in the thrift shop where clients can receive free items such as vitamins, body soap, toothpaste and other hygiene products. Her job is to help clients find the items they need and to tell them how many they are able to take.
It’s easy work, but it’s a job she said she loves.
“ ‘I just like the work and I like to get out of the house,’ Norman said. ‘I’ve really enjoyed it, and I’ve met a lot of people.’ ”
It wasn’t always this way. When the church first set up its community center, which provides a thrift shop, clothes closet, and food pantry, Norman wasn’t interested. But people already knew her heart for service, and kept “pestering” her to get involved. Finally, in 1989, at the young age of 72, she agreed to become a volunteer. Now she’s a fixture, and will be there even if it means, as it once did, paying for her broken garage door to be fixed so she can get her car out and get to work.
Schmaine Meadows, director of ACS, was quoted in the article as saying, “She’s a great example for the people in the community and at our church. She definitely has a good work ethic. She’s always here and raring to go.”
Pastor Hughes told Adventist Today that Norman’s life shows in the church in many more ways than that. She is known as a green thumb and helps with gardening at the church, as well as being sure there is a centerpiece of flowers in the foyer and on the communion table every week. She has a greenhouse, in which she grows “hundreds of different cacti and all kinds of flowers all year long. Every lady in the church looks up to Vera and thinks of her as an example. She wouldn’t call herself a mentor, but she’s supportive, helpful, always there to help with whatever needs to be done. A lot of young people look up to her. She has especially had a major impact on a young woman who works at the center.”
Quoting from the news article, “Frances Ohde, clothing manager at the center, said she doesn’t think Norman has ever missed a service at church and that all the younger children love her like their own grandmothers.”
More than that, Hughes reported that once when the church was trying to have an evangelistic series and didn’t have enough funds, they needed to match conference funds. “Nobody else could, so Vera did,” said Hughes. “And as a result of that series, we baptized eighteen souls.”
Hughes himself is known as the “Biker Pastor” and for the liberality of his views on worship, praise, and the leadership of women. He told AT that when he first came to pastor the Newark Seventh-day Adventist Community Church, Norman was among those who looked askance at the new praise songs and some of the other innovations he brought. Some people were openly critical. Not Norman. “She used to be kind of one of these stickler Adventists; everybody had to follow all the rules and do everything just right,” Hughes said. “At first she didn’t like the modern praise music I was doing. I wanted to lighten the atmosphere and make things a little less about rules and more about praising God. She sat back and watched for six months and then said this was okay and she was behind me 100 percent.”
Hughes (and it seems most church members would agree) calls Vera Norman “awesome,” and “a joy.” We cannot improve on the final sentence of the Newark Advocate article: “She is loved by all of the clients who come in, and when she’s not here, they miss her dearly,” [Meadows] said. “When she’s gone, it’s going to leave a big hole.” [The landing page looks the same as other Adventist church websites, but click on the sidebar to find such things as sermon videos and Bible Biker information.]