On Thursday, November 16, 2023, Norma June Hornbacher passed away after a brief illness. She was age 82. Many of her dearest friends and family visited her on her final day and her beloved daughter Stephanie and her sister Lois were by her side when she peacefully slipped away.
Norma was a friend to all those lucky enough to know her, the most caring and loving mother and grandma, and a treasured sister, aunt, and friend. She was born June 4, 1941, at Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis, the fourth of Carl and Esther Bergstrom’s ten children. Like her siblings, Norma worked long days on the family farm. Her goofy humor, love for singing made-up songs, and zest for life helped make weeding the fields pass more quickly. A variety of escapades kept Norma on the edge of trouble and to her final days she loved a good pun, goofy turn of phrase, and a hearty laugh. We’ll always remember some of her most famous phrases: “neither here nor there,” “just a lick and a promise,” “by hook or by crook,” “hustle my bustle,” “you lie like a rug,” “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit” “garsh-all-hemlock” and countless others. These “abnormalisms,” the color purple, colorful pins, and heart-shaped rocks are just a few things that make up the essence of our dear Norma.
Norma attended a one-room elementary school in the Minneapolis area and then graduated from Osseo High School in 1959. She didn’t follow her dad’s pronouncement that she should become a missionary, but instead became a bit of an adventurer, going to North Park College in Chicago for two years, moving to southern California for a year, and attending the University of Minnesota, living with her sister Joyce. After a short stint in Illinois working at a children’s home, she moved to the Bay Area to live with sister Arlene, where she heard Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in San Francisco and worked at a bookstore across from the Berkeley campus. Back in the Midwest during the Vietnam War-era teacher shortage, she was hired as a teacher at a country school in Mt. Morris, Michigan.
One day while picking up some library books in Flint to bring back to her classroom, she encountered a good-looking stranger. He ambled over, picked up one of her books and said “Hmm, Cowboy Songs for Kids, that’s right up my alley.” After that, as she said, the rest was history and she married her Chuckie baby, Charles Hornbacher, on June 21, 1969. Daughter Stephanie Rae – the true light of her life – was born in June, 1970.
Not long after Stephanie’s birth, Chuck saw a photo of Montana and decided to move his family to Columbia Falls, sight unseen, no jobs, no place to live, towing a small U-Haul with all their worldly possessions and a canoe on top. Chuck, a gifted jack-of-all-trades, built them a nice home on Elk Park Road with a big garden, a variety of cats and dogs that Norma mostly tolerated, and surrounded by neighbors who became lifelong friends. When Stephanie attended Deer Park School, Norma served on its school board. She also participated in charity drives, sold produce at the farmers’ market, joined local ladies’ clubs, was a 4-H leader, and organized an annual fundraising talent show. For several years, she and Chuck made and sold wooden toys and ornaments at craft fairs. Norma also served as an usher at community concerts and sold tickets at sporting events in Columbia Falls for many years.
Norma grew up in the Covenant Church and attended First Baptist Church in Columbia Falls throughout her life. Her Christian faith and church family were so important to her. She loved gospel music, hymns, and daily devotionals. Her family is so grateful that her loving church friends were always there for her. Thank you to pastors Buchanan and Dobson for truly caring about Norma.
In the 1970s, Norma began her long career in the Columbia Falls Public Schools as a paraeducator for all grades. Generations of students remember her fondly. In the 1980s she started working summers as a visitor use assistant in Glacier National Park and she was the friendliest attendant at the west entrance gate for many years. In Glacier she found friends who liked to recreate every weekend with her. With the Mountain Mamas and others, Norma had probably hiked every trail in Glacier National Park and cross country skied countless miles, although she couldn’t have told you where the trail was or how long it was – she just remembered the stories told along the way. She was so proud to share the beauty of Glacier with family and friends who visited Montana.
Norma found her greatest joy connecting with friends and family. She remembered the birthdays of all her loved ones and kept every letter they sent, she clipped newspaper articles about people she knew, stayed in touch with her siblings through weekly phone calls, and loved to take photos so she could share stacks of snapshots with anyone she could convince to look through them. Norma famously wrote everything on her wall calendar, from the day’s weather to the hike she did, so she could always remember the who and the what of her daily life. Although she couldn’t figure out how to operate an alarm clock to save her life, she was sharp as a tack, especially about spelling, grammar, and language. She loved playing Scrabble, played Rummikub and watched Wheel of Fortune nightly with Chuck, and completed daily crossword puzzles. Playing all those games was her way to have fun, connect with other people, and keep that quick wit active.
Norma’s youthful spirit and spunk made her the perfect grandma and favorite playmate to Madison, her only grandchild and pride and joy. They spent hours playing make believe and other games when Madison was young. Just like she had for daughter Stephanie, Norma attended all of Madison’s performances and sports events while she was able. Norma was so proud of both her daughter and granddaughter and loved to brag about Stephanie and Madison’s beauty, smarts, and accomplishments.
Norma was preceded in death by her husband Chuck, and siblings Arlene Coggburn, Bill Bergstrom, Carl Bergstrom, Carolyn Sosnoski, Joyce Bergstrom, and Sandy Sanchez. Her family left behind will miss her deeply. They include daughter Stephanie Gordon, granddaughter Madison Rose Gordon and son-in-law Steven Gordon; sisters Lois (Lance) Schelvan and Adele (Jeff) Light; brother Jim (Diane) Bergstrom; sisters-in-law Grace Bergstrom and Julanne Bergstrom; brothers-in-law Don Sosnoski and Joe Sanchez; and her many beloved nieces and nephews.
A very special thanks to the loving caregivers and staff at Beehive Assisted Living in Columbia Falls and Norma’s long-time physician Dr. Jay Erickson. Dr. Mitch Marzo was a wonderful support to Norma during several recent hospital stays. Several friends provided such loving care to Norma in her last years of life including Barb and Dave, Carmen, Cheryl, Darleen, Marie, Jean, Sara, Susan, and her sister Lois and brother-in-law Lance. Carmen and sister, Lois, were especially special caregivers to both Norma and Chuck. Dear friends supported Stephanie as she cared for her parents – a special thank you to Carrie, Darcie, Jamie, Jessica, Jolene, Leana, Quinn, Shelly and their families, and countless others who provided emotional support throughout this difficult journey.
If you would like to honor Norma’s memory, support your local public school or Glacier National Park in her memory, or sing loudly to a gospel song. A song especially meaningful to Norma and Stephanie is “I’ll Fly Away.” The roll has been called up yonder for Norma and she’s rejoicing with her family in heaven.
Funeral care provided by Austin Funeral and Cremation Services. Memorial service on December 11th, 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Columbia Falls. To send online condolences, please visit www.austinfh.com.