Celebrating Norma Stikeleather

Tom & Norma Stikeleather
Norma at age 7

Norma at Pennsicola Home
Norma in Apartment Kitchen
Stikeleather Family in Pompeii
Stikeleather Family and
Mildred Ervin in Capri
Norma holding a Snake Plant
in "The Boonies" in Guam
Norma, Sina & Cindy on Vacation in Seoul, Korea

Norma Stikeleather

June 22, 1938 -- May 28, 2018

By Kae Mattingly

(This celebration was originally published in Dec 2016)

Do you know someone who has lived in Pensacola, Florida, the Philippines, Italy, Washington D.C., Guam, North Carolina, and vacationed in Korea?  She has also visited Sicily, Germany, and France.  What a wonderful life this woman has lived.  Today we celebrate Norma Stikeleather.

Norma was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, the only child of Norman and Mildred Ervin.  Her father was drafted into the service (WWII).  Times were hard then, and her mother was having a hard time working and taking care of a child.  At age 7, Norma went to live with her paternal grandparents, on their farm just North of Charlotte.  Her mother would visit her on the weekends, if she had enough gas money.  She lived with them for about two years.  Her grandparents had finished raising ten children, and the last two had just finished high school.

Norma liked being on the farm, but she did not like the work.  One of her jobs was digging up potatoes, which she did not like.  When her grandfather would go out to kill a chicken, her job was to pluck the feathers (she was really, really slow doing this job).  One day she was sent to the wagon for water.  When she didn’t return, they went looking for her and found her under the wagon fast asleep.  Her grandparents said she would never be a farmer.  Today, she enjoys gardening, putting up tomato sauce, canning all kinds of pickles and green beans.

School came easy for Norma.  During her elementary years, her father was stationed in Japan.  He would send her letters.  Once he sent her a Japanese baby doll, which she still has today.  When he was discharged, her parents bought land near the grandparents and built a home.  The first high school she attended was a county school.  It mainly taught subjects such as gardening, home economics, canning, and had 4-H classes.  Her parents felt she needed more of a challenge, so they sent her to the school in town.  Harding High School  was more academic.  It had an advanced program.  Education was important to her parents.  Nothing except A’s would do.  While in high school she got a job at a grocery store as a checker.  While working at the grocery, she met this boy who was a bagger and a checker.  He went to her rival school (Charlotte Central).  His name was Tom (you guessed it) Stikeleather. They were both juniors.

After high school graduation, Tom went into the Navy and Norma worked during the day and went to school at night.  She attended Queens University (part of the UNC system).  The church, Sugar Creek Presbyterian, paid her tuition.  She took religion classes and accounting classes also.  The church wanted her to work full time at the church when she completed her studies.  She really didn’t want to work at the church, so after two years she quit.

Tom and Norma kept in touch.  They were best friends.  They both had goals they wanted to accomplish before settling down.  Tom had only 30 days of leave a year, so then he would visit his parents and Norma.  In 1963, Tom was onboard ship during the Cuban Missile Crisis off the coast of Cuba.  He was doing things that were top secret.  She was missing him and scared for him.  In 1965, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Tom was stationed in Pensacola, Florida.  In 1966, they were married in Charlotte and Norma moved to Pensacola with Tom.  In 1968, Tom was being shipped to Japan, but Norma, pregnant with their first child, couldn’t go.  She went back home to live with her parents.  Tom ended up in Washington D.C. instead of Japan.  He went home every weekend to see Norma.  Sina was born in May 1968 and Tom got a promotion to CWO (Chief Warrant Officer).

September 1968, Tom went to the Philippines.  Norma and Sina joined him in October of that year.  Norma could only pack the bare essentials; four plates, four cups,four saucers, crib mattress, but no crib, playpen pad, but no playpen.  She could only have 400 pounds.  Tom had found an apartment for Norma and Sina.  While they were living here, Norma had a maid/nanny named Lucy.  She lived with them full time and made $15.00 a month.  All the Americans had maids to clean and help with the children.  The apartment had no washer or dryer, so all the clothes were washed by hand.  A year after Norma arrived, the rest of her belongings finally arrived.

While in the Philippines, there was a Drug Raid on the Base.  Two hundred officers lost their jobs and were shipped out.  Tom and Norma moved from their apartment into a two bedroom townhouse on the base.  Lucy went too.  While there, Norma volunteered for People to Little People Program.  This program taught the children how to speak English.

In June 1970 Cindy was born.  In September 1970, Tom was transferred to Washington D.C. for six months, so Norma and the girls went back to North Carolina to live with her parents.  Tom came back to North Carolina every Friday to visit.

In March 1971, Tom moved the family to Norfolk, Virginia.  They lived there for four years.  In 1975, they went to Italy.  Norma enjoyed this place the most, but it was very expensive.  No base housing for officers.  They had a Villa, with four bedrooms, marble stairways and windowsills.  It was a beautiful place.  While there she saw a lot of Italy, and also traveled to Sicily, Bavaria, Germany, Florence and Assisi.  While they lived in Italy, Tom was gone about two-thirds of the time.

In April, 1976, they received a call that Norma’s dad was dying.  They all came back to the states.  Norma’s dad improved, but Tom’s dad died while they were there.  Later, when they got back to Italy, they got another call that Norma’s dad had passed away.  Norma and Tom came back to the states again for the funeral and left the girls in Italy with friends.

In 1978, they left Italy and moved to Washington D.C. for three years.  Norma went to work for the Navy Relief Society, a private charity in the 50’s to help military people.  She was a full charge bookkeeper and finally a paid position.

From 1981-1983 they lived in Guam.  Here Norma was a lady of leisure, but she felt a little confined.  This island was only 22 miles long and 12 miles wide.  In 1982, the family went to Korea for a 10 day vacation.  They wanted to see the DMZ.  While there, the whole time they were under guard for protection.  They also went to the NATO Building.  It was here that the girls began to understand what it was that their father did for a living.

In 1983, they moved again, this time to Chesapeake, Virginia.  Tom was gone six to eight weeks at a time working on Government Projects.  Norma couldn’t go.  She got a job at the Tide Water Group Home Commission for the state of Virginia.  This organization took in kids when they came to the attention of the court system.  They would place these children in group homes and educate parents on parenting skills.  Norma’s job was Office Manager.

November 1986 found Norma and the girls moving back to North Carolina because Norma’s mother was dying.  March 31, 1987 Tom retired from the Navy and in October 1987 Norma’s mother died.  They sold her mother’s house to Don and Arzetta Mimbs.  Tom, Norma, and the girls moved into the house where Norma lives today.

After Tom retired he worked for AT&T and Lucent for 13 years, and Norma was enjoying life.  They vacationed in places like the Grand Canyon, Denver where they enjoyed the World’s Largest Model Train Station, and the state of Maine, where they went whale watching.

Norma was influenced by a Commanding Officer’s wife in Pensacola, Florida, who taught her about being a Navy Wife.  She said the life of a Navy wife is stressful - you go wherever he goes and you make a home.  You must run a smooth ship.

Norma and her family joined First Presbyterian Church in Kernersville in August 1987.  She has served on the Worship Committee, Stewardship Finance Committee, and the Fellowship Committee.  She participated in the Egg Ministry (the egg project started in Norma’s kitchen).  She is an Elder, and has been a dispersing treasurer, adult class Sunday School Teacher, and was Moderator of the Presbyterian Women.  She was also in the PGA’s.

Norma is most proud of:
Being married to Tom Stikeleather and being a Navy Wife.
“My life started when I married Tom.”
Norma’s  words of wisdom:
“Stay true to yourself.
Believe it or not - God is involved with every aspect of your life.”


Norma, Sina & Cindy at
DMZ in Korea
Norma, Sina & Cindy in
front of a Flame Tree on
a Spanish Bridge