Tuesday, May 19, 2009
In the Presence of Giants -- Norm Daniels
Sometimes you live in the presence of people who are so humble that you never know how important they are until much later. This was brought home to me the other day when I was reading the newspaper after dinner. I happened to look on the second page of the Troy Daily News and under "Obituaries of National Interest" I was dumbfounded to see "Norm Daniels, Middletown, Connecticut."
I knew Norm, but I never knew he was a person of national interest. Right after graduate school, I was hired as the first director of the Middlesex County Historical Society AND the Historical Society of Glastonbury. Neither organization had enough money to hire someone on their own, so they combined forces and hired me fresh out of graduate school to split my time between the places.
The Middlesex County Historical Society is in Middletown, Connecticut and is housed in the General Joseph King Fenno Mansfield House, a large brick house built in 1805 which was the home of General Joseph K. F. Mansfield, a general in the Mexican American War and the Civil War. I lived in the servant's quarters.
I remember coming in from Virginia, on the way to Michigan to collect my things. I stopped in Middletown, which wasn't really on my way, to be introduced to the members at one of their meetings. After the meeting, this tall, older gentleman came up to me and showed me his class ring...from the University of Michigan and introduced himself as Norm Daniels.
I was a little embarassed because although he had been told I went to "Michigan" (i.e. University of Michigan), in reality, my undergraduate degree is from Western Michigan University, and to make matters worse, I had turned down a scholarship from U of M to go to the smaller WMU.
Norm was an active member. He was the head of buildings and grounds and he and I worked closely together. He was always a gentleman, and while I knew that he had been a coach at Wesleyan and had been instrumental in the coaching program there, that was about as far as it went. He was always helpful and was always doing things for people.
I left Middletown in 1987 and went on to other things. I moved to Meriden, and shortly after we moved in, a young couple with a baby moved in next door. Imagine my great surprise when at a birthday party for the little boy, I think he was about 5 years old at that time, there was Norm. It turned out that Norm was my neighbor's grandfather. I saw him off and on at family functions until we moved as my daughter and the "little boy" were like brother and sister, and we still keep in touch, even though we moved to Ohio in 2005.
His interest in baseball turned out to be genetic. His son followed him, and Tracy, his grandaughter (who was my neighbor), is a fantastic softball player.
Norm was quiet. He had a deep voice. He was an amazing guy because very early on he had taken a stand for Civil Rights. While he had said, almost as an aside, that once he and his team left a hotel which wouldn't allow one of his players in who was black, and had walked off the field on another occassion, it just didn't sink in. I think it was how he said it. Almost an "oh, by the way..."
He'd do anything for you. He was thoughtful. He really did care for people....all people. When I read over the obituaries and saw that he made it in to even the tiny Troy, Ohio paper I began to understand what a giant he was.... I'm grateful for the lives he touched as surely some of his open-mindedness, his ability to do what was right no matter what the rest of the world was doing must have made an impact on at least some of the kids he coached. I can honestly say that the world needs more Norm Daniels. He died last week at the honorable age of 102. I don't think that there are many like him, and I wish there were.