Some Notes on Jerry Norum

Jerry Norum died earlier this month, at age 84. WC lost a friend, a terrific teacher and a role model.

WC’s 5th grade teacher was Dorothy McNavish. If you are of a certain age, your remember a gray-haired woman, hair in a tight bun, lips tightly pursed, carrying an “I’m from Foodland” shopping bag. Yeah, her. She pretty much wrecked WC as a student. We didn’t get along, to put it mildly. WC barely passed 5th grade.

WC’s 6th grade teacher, in just his second year of teaching, was Jerry Norum. Mr. Norum changed WC’s attitude towards school. He could and did make grade school fun, interesting and challenging. Someone in class claimed that hot water put outside at -50° F froze faster than cold water, because of evaporative cooling. We all bundled up, went outside and tested the claim, with identical bowls of hot and cold water and two thermometers. Mr. Norum set it up as science: hypothesis, designed experiment, observation and analysis.

Later in the year, when Greg Baker and WC showed signs of being bored, Mr. Norum set us off on our own in a separate room with a confiscated pinball machine,1 a few tools and instructions to “figure out how it works” and make a report to the class. It was a week of pure heaven for WC.

Mr. Norum revived WC’s love of reading by introducing him to Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys. The class did a field trip in the fall to the library – then in the George C. Thomas Building at First and Cowles – where those of us who didn’t have library cards got them and we were tasked with reading any book we wanted every week. Someone – Jeannette Wrede? – worried about 7th Grade, where you changed classrooms and instructors every hour, so he arranged for a field trip to Main Junior High.

Imagination, a willingness to experiment, sensitivity to the angst of pre-teens, enthusiasm and smarts. Jerry Norum changed WC’s life.

Of course, Jerry Norum was much more than a terrific school teacher. He was a fine school administrator, a city councilman, a borough assembly member, youth sports supporter, luge enthusiast, outstanding father and husband and Fairbanks booster. He was even WC’s client a couple of times. As he got older, he got a little crankier and had trouble adjusting his ideas to the realities of the world, but that core integrity was always there. And that joyful delight in life and the world around him.

WC’s thoughts and sympathies are with Nancy, the kids and the grandkids.

R.I.P. Jerry Norum, 1934-2018.



  1. Seized by the Fairbanks Police Department as a “prohibited gambling device.” WC never found out how Jerry talked the police into giving it to him.