Norma Jean Perry loved being a grandmother so much that she didn’t stop with her own eight grandchildren.
After dedicating her life to operating an in-home day care and working in the public school system as a social worker, Norma returned to the classroom later in life as a foster grandparent. The volunteer program tapped senior citizens to help mentor, guide and nurture children in Des Moines classrooms.
“Her mission was to ensure fairness and the best education be given to our children,” said Deb Brewer Cotlar, Norma's niece. “She was always mentoring to children — and mentoring to me, giving advice.”
Norma's guidance centered on three pillars, Deb said: faith, family and giving back to the community.
“She would be willing to help and talk to anyone who needed help,” she said. “She was always open to feeding or clothing others. You know, it really was about giving back.”
Norma died May 1 of COVID-19 after living each of her 89 years in Des Moines. Norma had battled other health conditions during life, Deb said, but always managed to keep her spunk.
“She had congestive heart failure and wore oxygen, but it never dampened who she was,” she said. “There was always this life to her.”
Norma was an excellent cook and loved to share her gift — especially her greens, grinder sandwiches, potato salad, and macaroni and cheese — with her family and with her church. She was a member of the Union Baptist Church before transferring to the Corinthian Baptist Church.
She also sang in the church choir, volunteered as an usher and participated in a group for senior citizens called “Prime Timers.”
“Her faith was extremely important to her,” Deb said, and Norma's faith guided her to minister to others and to set an example for her family.
Norma had a zest for life and loved to travel, both in the United States and abroad.
One of five children, she was known fondly as “Ducky.” She had two children, eight grandchildren, many great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
“There was this feistiness to her,” Deb said. “And yet at the same time, a real genuineness. You knew you were loved.”
Iowa Mourns is a series of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at email@example.com.
Brianne Pfannenstiel is the chief politics reporter for the Register. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8244. Follow her on Twitter at @brianneDMR.
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