By: Jordan Deane
A snowy winter afternoon falls on Rochester College’s campus as the first day of classes start in Spring 2015. A first-semester freshman parks his car for the first day of classes. Looking at a map for navigation to find a classroom called CC6 for Basic Writing, the student feels anxiety and stress as a college English class awaits him.
He opens the door and sees two other students already seated for class. He turns his head slightly left and sees a woman behind a podium who greets him with a big smile and warm welcome, which sets his anxiety at ease.
After 16 weeks in class, this student gained confidence because of this professor’s ability to teach, encourage and truly care about his success in class. So after struggling academically in high school, he now knew that college was the place for him.
That scared little freshman was me. Now, over four and half years later, I will soon be graduating with honors, and a large part of my success is because of that professor: Kay Norman.
Norman, who taught English classes at Rochester College for about 20 years, impacted many students both academically and in other aspects of their lives. “She gave me the drive my freshman year in her class,” said Caleb Touchstone, an interdisciplinary studies major, who took Basic Writing. “I probably would have failed all my classes. She gave me that motivation that I can do better, set goals for myself, and I’m worth being in college.”
Norman’s career spans 40 years and includes teaching for elementary schools across the country. She earned her elementary education degree from Abilene Christian College. She taught at RC from 1998 to 2018, teaching mostly English classes, and she worked in the school’s learning lab and developing the Supplemental Instruction program.
Now retired from teaching, Norman took her role as an educator with the utmost importance. “The realization that God had built that talent in me, and I felt called to use it. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching at the upper level,” Norman said. She also joked about her decision to go into education four decades ago: “At that time, you (women) were either a nurse or a teacher.”
In addition to impacting others in the classroom, Norman and her husband, Larry, have dedicated their lives to helping people in Africa. “I was involved with making little dresses for Africa. Larry pushed me to go to Malawi to take the dresses there,” Kay Norman said. “I went there, and that’s when my heart got broken for how desperate life is for the women there. Larry then got interested. We went to Uganda together, and we became infected with it.”
The Normans became invested in Kibo Group International, a faith-inspired nonprofit that partners with East Africans to pursue local solutions for poverty and injustice, and started Kibo Corner, a small coffee cafe, at RC in 2011. One hundred percent of profits from Kibo Corner goes to the sustainable development projects in Uganda
Kay Norman said the heart behind Kibo Corner is to help Africans help themselves. The biggest way they have done that is through access of clean water through water wells that are funded by every dollar that comes through the coffee shop on campus.
She is most proud of two things about Kibo Corner: “It has immensely helped people who have desperate needs. It has also opened the eyes of many students to the mission of developing countries. If Kibo Corner was not there, I don’t think our students, as a whole, would have it focused for them that there are developing countries that truly need intervention.”
The water wells funded by Kibo are placed in an area in Uganda, Africa, where strong tension exists between African Christians and Muslims. “We have been called to reconciliation, and reconciling the relationships of Christians and Muslims is huge in those villages. They do not want to be touched or contaminated by each other. When you dig a well, we can say it’s for everybody. We are not putting it on your church property, in your mosque property. It’s on neutral property and you will all meet at the well and share that water. That’s where reconciliation starts,” she said.
Kibo Group has 18 team members in Africa, and they have built wells in 40 villages thus far. Norman said their staff has gone out to those wells and have, at times, been invited into the mosques to have an opportunity to mend broken relationships.
Woman of Faith
Norman credits her lifelong desire to help others to her parents. She describes her mother as “very faithful to God,” and her father, who had an 8th grade education, with doing “amazingly well supporting our family.” She said she learned much from them about having a strong work ethic and good morals.
Norman’s faith is evident to those around her. Danette Cagnet, dean of the School of Business and Professional Studies, has known Norman for 16 years, and said she is “a prayer warrior, godly woman, one of both grace and wisdom, and friend.”
Larry and Kay Norman have been married for 52 years, and in a world where approximately 50 percent of marriages fail, the Norman’s refuse to be a part of that statistic. “We both have jointly always been focused on living our faith, and it is our faith that has gotten us through our challenges,” Kay said.
Her advice to young married couples is simple: commitment. “When you go through times of not liking each other, that’s OK. There is never a verse in the Bible that says we must like each other, but there is a verse to love your enemies. So, if you have to love your enemies, you can certainly love each other. You have to love each other. That’s not a choice. You don’t marry for happiness, you marry for faithfulness,” Norman said.
The Normans have two sons: Kyle and Kevin, and one granddaughter Madelynn. They take their dog, Sadie, to visit residents at six area nursing homes. Sadie is registered through “Love on a Leash,” a program that trains dogs and their owners to serve as volunteer pet therapy teams.
After 40 years of paid work, Kay Norman continues working to help others. Many people have the tendency to lay back and take it easy in retirement because they have “earned” it, but Norman said she is excited “to be a minister in the ministry of the world.”