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Margaret Williams Norton, Class of 1961

Helen Norton Seminar Room: Dedication Remarks

These remarks were delivered by Margaret Williams Norton '61 on Oct. 10, 2019 at the dedication of the Helen Norton Seminar Room on the first floor of Pioneer Hall. They are re-posted here with extremely limited editing, to help show the important role of parents in a child's education. 

Remarks Begin

If this were an older group, some of you who live in Salina might remember Helen Norton. She died in 1993 when she was ninety-three and most of you will not remember her. Those who do, may know her in the context of her management of the Norton Apartments on East Iron Avenue, or in conjunction with the First Methodist Church. The photographs mounted in the room are good depictions. They accurately show Helen, as she always was, beautifully dressed and groomed, not just dressed up for the pictures. The photographs, one from the 1930s and one from the 1960s, are faithful representations of her natural elegant appearance.  She was as carefully dressed at home as she was when she was out. Looking good and feeling well were distinct characteristics of her nature, as natural as breathing. Helen was a detail person who paid close attention to her household and to her business account books, keeping up with everything on a daily basis. Her excellent habits stemmed from German roots. She was a child of parents in the second wave of Kansas farm settlement when many immigrant communities were formed. German farmers, like Helen’s parents, Charles and Agnes Schrader, were highly regarded in the multi-cultural rural communities spread across Kansas.  Germans were known and respected for their exceptionally well-kept fields and farm buildings, as well as their carefully kept account books.    

She lived in Salina for seventy-five years, beginning in 1918, when she was a student at Brown-Mackie business school, then the Kansas Wesleyan Business College. Following her education, she remained in Salina as a wife, mother and businesswoman.  The beginning of her permanent attachment to Salina began Armistice Day 1918, when she met her future husband Frank C. Norton, a newly commissioned army officer twelve years her senior, in Salina on that very important day of national celebration, when many Salina residents were outdoors celebrating the end of World War I.  She was married to Frank a year later on Thanksgiving Day 1919, at the Schrader family home near the small town of Delavan, Kansas, eight miles from Herington. 

Helen was born in 1900 during the years when Kansas was still young, only thirty-nine years in existence and populated with ambitious and progressive immigrant farm families along with native households.  The family farm, the Schrader home place near Delavan, where she was reared had been worked briefly by only one earlier owner, when Helen’s father the young Charles Schrader bought it. 

Helen Marie Schrader, the youngest of four children, was born at home on the family farm. The farm community at Delavan in western Morris County offered good farmland in an area  populated by newly settled farmers with roots in Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as Bohemia (Czechoslovakia) and Scandinavia. 

The Schrader place is situated on rich upland acreage a few miles from Delavan where Helen attended elementary school and the Methodist church. After high school in Herington and business school in Salina, Helen distinctly preferred towns to rural life, but she reminisced about her early years at home when she excelled as a pianist and learned fine needlework from her Austrian-born mother, and where on the rare snow days her father drove the children to school in a team-drawn sleigh. 

The Charles and Agnes Schrader family was of mixed German roots. Helen’s mother, Agnes Wynek, was an immigrant Austrian who came to America to work in a Kansas household. Helen’s father Charles was a second generation German born in an immigrant community, near the southern Illinois town of Redbud, Illinois and reared by his widowed mother in the railroad and coal town of Murphysboro, Illinois.

Both of Helen’s parents were from German speaking families but they were from very different cultures within the large German empire, Charles Schrader’s family came to America in the mid-nineteenth century, probably from Prussia, decades before the unification of Germany and settled in one of the staunchly proud German Lutheran communities east of St. Louis.  Helen’s mother, Agnes Wynek, was a devout Catholic from the Czech region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire near the Hungarian border during her early years at Mahrisch Neustadt, Moravia.  In the 1880s she joined the resettlement pattern common to many young German, Czech and Scandinavian women who arrived in Kansas to work as household help, and spent her early years with a family in Herington until she met and married Charles Schrader, newly settled on his farm.  

Education was a priority for the Schrader family.  Helen graduated from high school in Herington, when Kansas public schools already had the reputation for excellence that they have to the present day, but during a time 1914-1918 when a much lower percentage of the population completed secondary school. Helen was an excellent pianist as a young woman and she later said that it was her girlhood dream to study music after high school, but her father favored a more practical business education for her so she continued her education at the Kansas Wesleyan Business School. It is very likely that she would have done well in music, but Charles Schrader was correct about his younger daughter’s potential as a businesswoman; she mastered the lessons from her business education very well.

Helen had a practical outlook in all matters. She considered the details of all enterprises as important and the completion of projects essential.  She was interested in the progress and growth of Salina where so much history evolved during her long lifetime. In tandem with her strongly held Methodist beliefs, she was a believer in positive thinking, the principles of which she followed.  These convictions supported her through life trials that came her way, the death of a young child when she was in her twenties, the Great Depression in her thirties, caring for both her mother-in-law and her father-law in her home while they were dying, and early widowhood in the 1950s.  

In the 1940s Helen and Frank Norton built a vacation home near Bailey, Colorado where they assisted their daughter and son-in-law in the establishment of a resort business and a lumber yard. And they began enjoyed foreign travel, anticipating many trips in years to come. They enjoyed trips to Mexico and to Cuba.  Then Frank died in 1954.  Helen continued to travel all of her life, visiting most of the countries of Europe and many Asian countries. On two occasions, once with her daughter, she visited relatives near Vienna, kinfolk that her mother kept in touch with over the years. Travel, Helen said, was her advanced education.

Particularized details about the life of Helen Norton for whom this room is named are related here, if  the names and details are changed, you may find the wonderful and courageous lives of many mothers and fathers of Wesleyan students, men and women born as early or even earlier, than 1900, and those born since. These are the parents who have provided so much that helps students succeed.