Vickroy: Oak Forest centenarian honored by city for volunteer work
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy January 2, 2014 10:44PM
Norma Campbell (right), of Oak Forest, and her daughter, Jean Moran, of Orland Park, hold an old portrait of the Campbell children. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2014 10:24AM
On New Year’s Eve 1913, Woolworth and Montgomery Ward were shopping destinations, Chicago’s first municipal Christmas tree brightened Grant Park, and on the South Side of the city, Anna Olson was about to give birth to one of the first babies of the new year.
Labor pains would force the Netherlands immigrant, who was pregnant with her third child, to excuse herself from a family party that night. A few minutes into Jan. 1, 1914, baby Norma made her debut.
“My mom used to talk all the time about how she missed her favorite dinner, homemade chop suey, that night,” said Norma Mildred Olson Campbell, of Oak Forest, who turned 100 Wednesday.
Other than helping her family usher in a new year, Campbell said having a Jan. 1 birthday is not that special. But there’s plenty special about Campbell beyond her reaching the century mark.
Her tireless efforts earned her the recognition of Oak Forest last month when she was honored with a city council proclamation, describing her many years of service to Oak Fest, Bremen Township Seniors, the Golden Oaks senior club and her church affiliations. In 1990, she was awarded the Cook County Sheriff’s Department’s Medal of Honor for her volunteer work.
Campbell wears her 100 years well. Aside from losing some of her hearing and having both knees replaced when she was 91, she is in remarkable shape. She exercises daily and cooks her dinner every night. And she continues to be a longstanding member of many Oak Forest volunteer groups.
“I’ve been blessed with good health,” she said, although she admits she helps things along with a steady diet of chicken, fish, blueberries and broccoli.
She’s learned that while some TV programs are too difficult to make out and follow, Bears and White Sox games come in loud and clear. And about Sunday’s painful Bears loss to Green Bay, “Well, wasn’t that something? The Packers got the ball at the right time, and, of course, they scored and that was just what they needed.”
As for the White Sox, “Well, they weren’t always so popular. It wasn’t until they won that World Series (2005) that they became popular.”
Campbell grew up in Chicago’s Oakdale neighborhood, attended Gresham Branch School and later graduated from Calumet High School. She remembers standing at attention at 11 a.m. each Armistice Day, now called Veterans Day, to commemorate the end of World War I.
After high school, she worked for Bird & Son, a national roofing company. Her future husband, Earl Campbell, also worked there. In 1939, after the couple married, she was dismissed because it was against company policy to employ married women.
“Times were tough, and they figured a married woman had a husband to support her, that she didn’t need the job as much as a single woman or man did,” Campbell said.
The Campbells would go on to have five children — Jean, Richard, Florence, Bruce and Paul. Sadly, Paul died at age 18 in 1974 in an auto accident.
“It was a very sad time for our family,” recalled his sister, Jean Moran, who lives in Orland Park.
During World War II, Campbell recalled, the family was living in what was then a rural Evergreen Park.
“We could look out our front window and see Pulaski (Road) across the field,” she said.
Money was tight, and although Campbell welcomed the door-to-door salesmen for family portrait companies, she was hesitant to get an expensive frame. But one time, she did.
“I felt bad about the expense until I noticed Earl stopping to stare at the picture of the kids every day before he left for work,” she said. “Then I knew it was worth it.”
Back then, the military would conduct flight practice in the area. One day, Campbell heard a plane flying very low outside her house and looked out the window to see a fighter plane make an emergency landing in the field that separated her home from Pulaski Road.
“I called the operator and told her I could see the occupants walking on the wing,” she said. “It was amazing they didn’t hit any wires or anything on the way down.”
As the children grew, she took a job in the administrative offices of Kroger and Co., where she worked on a comptometer — the first commercially successful, key-driven mechanical calculator. She worked there for 20 years.
After her children graduated from Evergreen Park High School, Norma and Earl, who was a streetcar driver and later became a Chicago Transit Authority bus driver, began to consider retirement.
They had always loved the Lake of the Ozarks area, so they decided to spend their golden years in Rocky Mount, breathing the clean country air and enjoying their motor boat. They built a dock themselves.
“I loved it there,” Campbell said. “It was so beautiful.”
But just three years into their retirement, Earl suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed on his left side. Eventually, the couple would accept an offer from their son, Bruce, to move in with him in Oak Forest.
Back in the Chicago area, Campbell quickly resumed involvement with her church — Our Savior Covenant Church and, after it closed, the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Oak Forest. She also volunteered for many service organizations, including Meals on Wheels and the Salvation Army.
Since Earl passed away in 1999, Campbell has continued to meet the needs of others.
A grandmother of 10 and great-grandmother of 17, Campbell attends meetings three days a week and church service every Sunday.
“She’s very disciplined,” Jean said. “And she’s very busy. Whenever we’re making plans we always stop and say, ‘Somebody better check and make sure Mom’s available.’ ”
Campbell also is computer savvy, a skill she acquired while trying to keep up with the demands of her many volunteer commitments. She loves to read historical fiction on her Kindle. And she is well-traveled, having visited many national parks accompanied by Bruce, who now lives in California.
About 130 family members from near and far will celebrate her 100th birthday on Saturday. And she has already received birthday greetings from the White House.