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Norma J. Ridenour

July 02, 2011|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • This photo of Norma Ridenour at the banquet bar at Elks Lodge 378 in Hagerstown was published in the June edition of the Elks newsletter Antlers.
Submitted Photo

For more than a quarter century, Norma Ridenour was a familiar face at Elks Lodge 378 in Hagerstown. She tended bar in the banquet room for weddings, bonanzas and special Elk functions, after working the main bar the first few years she was employed there.

Her love for the Baltimore Orioles and her cats was evident in her personal decorations behind the bar.

A sign behind the bar reads, "What happens in Norma's Bar stays in Norma's Bar." Her genuine interest in other people's lives added to her success behind the bar.

The petite redhead — at not quite 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighing in at less than 100 pounds — didn't let size or age stop her. Her hair color earned her the nickname "Red" in high school.

"She was 74 and still carrying beer cases and packing her own coolers," said daughter Tanya Ridenour-ten Hoope, who added that her mother also cleaned most of the ballroom after events.

"She was on the go all the time. It did keep her young," Tanya said.

Norma's unexpected death from a brain aneurysm has hit her only child hard.

"She and I were so, so close. It was an extra special relationship — she was my mom and my best friend. She was everything to me and I to her," said Tanya, who spoke daily to her mother by phone.

Tanya's husband, Henk ten Hoope, who is from Holland, said he considered Norma his mother here.

"I thought I had another 25 years with her," said Henk, choking back tears.

Norma was flown from Meritus Medical Center to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and fought for almost two weeks before her death.

Henk distinctly remembers his last conversation with her, when she said she needed a step stool to give him a hug since he was a foot taller than she was.

"I told her, 'I'll just reach down, Momma,'" Henk said.

He remembers meeting her for the first time and liking her immediately because she was honest and direct, like his father.

"We hit it off right away," Henk said.

Norma is remembered by her family for being honest, sincere, caring and not pretentious.

"She'd always say to me and others, 'If you don't want to know the truth, don't ask the question,'" Tanya said.  

Norma was born and raised on Cannon Avenue in Hagerstown. Her only brother died a few years ago.

A 1955 graduate of Hagerstown High School, Norma hadn't missed a reunion, including the 2010 reunion, Tanya said. Norma had been a member of the reunion committee for at least 15 years.

While in high school, Norma worked for Washington County Free Library, followed by Fleishers on the Square, then as a dental assistant.

She married Richard Ridenour of Hagerstown in 1962. They lived briefly in Arizona, where Tanya was born.

After returning to Hagerstown, Norma sold Sarah Coventry jewelry, then worked for Snelling and Snelling Employment Agency before she began working for the Elks Club in 1985.

They lived in a North Mulberry Street apartment until Tanya was 10, then moved to their current Marsh Road home.

While Norma often worked weekends, she and Richard had their special routines, Tanya said. They grocery shopped together on Tuesdays and almost every Sunday night, they ordered a pizza to share.

Norma was fond of meat and potatoes, especially mashed potatoes with gravy, even though she wasn't known for her cooking and didn't like doing domestic chores, Tanya said.

She loved music and used to go to Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to follow her favorite groups. In later years, though, she didn't travel far from home because she didn't like driving on highways and stuck to back roads.

Instead, when a good band played at a banquet at the Elks while Norma was working, she'd clap and clap and clap, said Tammi Itnyre, the Elks' kitchen manager.

"She was old school," Tammi said. "She did everything by the book."

Tammi, who worked with Norma for 23 years, said it was a privilege to work with Norma and that her death has been hard on the Elks employees and officers.

"She wasn't just a co-worker or friend. She was our family," Tammi said. "She was very special. She had this laugh and a twinkle in her eye."

Tammi hosted yard sales with Norma and Tanya and spent hours on the phone with Norma, who was a night owl and could talk into the wee hours of the morning.

Tanya said her mother's high school hangout was the Chatterbox, followed later by Beck's at the corner of Jonathan and Franklin streets, and then the Venice Hotel.

"She loved to dance and listen to good music," Tanya said.

Baseball was another passion of Norma's. Her stepfather started taking her to baseball games and she followed the Hagerstown Braves, as well as cheering on family members who played on local Little League, PONY League, Colt League and American Legion teams.

"She followed whatever team Reggie Jackson played for. After he retired, she became a diehard Orioles fan," Tanya said, adding that Norma didn't like the New York Yankees except when Jackson played for them.

Henk said his mother-in-law had the TV at the Elks bar tuned to Orioles games when she worked.

It was fitting that Norma's favorite sports team was named for a bird since she had a heart for animals. At one point, she had 25 cats, some inside, some outside.

"In my growing-up years, we raised I don't know how many critters — cats, snakes, dogs, rabbits, gerbils. Anything with legs, wings, whatever," Tanya said.

"If she was allowed to have a lion, she probably would have had one," Henk said of Norma, who also was known for her great sense of humor.

"She enjoyed life to the fullest," Tanya said. "The slightest thing tickled her."

Finding a bargain also was a thrill, whether it was at a consignment shop, thrift store or yard sale. Norma shopped for Christmas year round, and under the tree there always was a pile of gifts.

"Nothing extravagant, just lots of nice small things," Henk said.

Most likely, Norma already had a stash of gifts started for Christmas 2011.

"Everybody came before herself," Tanya said. "She's the most selfless person I've ever met."

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