From Page 1 over the years who went on to successful broadcasting and news careers.” After completing his Master’s degree in journalism at Northern Illinois University, Norman took the offer from …
From Page 1
over the years who went on to successful broadcasting and news careers.”
After completing his Master’s degree in journalism at Northern Illinois University, Norman took the offer from Robinson to become a part of the journalism faculty at UWRF. This led to a 30-year run for Norman, who mentored hundreds upon hundreds of students who either became journalism majors or took journalism courses at UWRF.
One student of Norman’s was Cathy Wurzer, who is heard on Minnesota Public Radio each weekday during the Morning Edition show. Wurzer shared some of her memories of Norman.
“Mike was the person who kept me going in broadcasting. Really, if it wasn't for him and for former WRFW chief engineer Al Murray, I wouldn't be where I am today. When things got tough, Mike was always there to encourage, cheering me on, and telling me I had what it took to be on the air despite my doubts. He'd say to believe in myself. That was one of the best lessons I could've ever learned,” said Wurzer.
Norman was not only a great mentor for students at UWRF, but for his colleagues as well. Colleen Callahan, former chair of the UWRF journalism department, worked alongside Norman as a professor. She learned much from Norman, especially observing his demeanor with students.
“Mike had an easy-going, congenial personality that made students feel at ease in his presence. He was like an older brother who shared advice drawn from his own journalism experiences, all the while instilling a sense of confidence in students: ‘Go ahead, you can do it!’ The best advice Mike ever shared with me was to be patient. Whenever things would get stressful, Mike was there to remind us that things always get better if we don’t give up. He was the eternal optimist,” said Callahan.
Robinson too, who once mentored Norman, said the roles sometimes reversed over the years.
“Mike and I shared an interest in Native American anthropology/ archeology. In 2008 we took a road trip and toured the major Anasazi sites in the Four Corners area of the Southwest. He told me I could be too impulsive in my rush to get things done. He was right,” said Robinson.
Joan Kratt, an academic department association in the journalism/ marketing communications and political science departments at UWRF from 1998-2012, served as Norman’s administrative assistant.
“Mike Norman touched the lives of so many people during the years that I worked with him at UW-River Falls,” Kratt said. “When I was hired in 1998, Mike was the Department of Journalism Chair. If I could describe Mike in two words, it would be that he was an ‘enthusiastic communicator.’ He was loved by his students because he could get them excited about journalism or photography or the WRFW-FM radio station or storytelling or just living. He worked tirelessly on each project that he took on, whether it was for the university or for a civic organization. He loved his family dearly and will be missed by many people.”
Aside from teaching journalism at UWRF, Norman always had side projects of his own, most notably writing the “Haunted” series of ghost stories, which have been popular not only in Wisconsin but across the United States.
Robinson shared discussions he had with Norman about writing the series.
“Mike and I had a number of discussions about his philosophy in writing the haunted series,” Robinson said. “Journalist that he was, he took a strictly objective approach to all the stories he told. He never revealed, at least not to me, whether he believed in the stories he was telling. That, he said, is up to my readers.”
Norman was also a playwright, actor and director, having participated in numerous community theater projects throughout alongside former UWRF journalism professors such as Rick Burgsteiner, who retired in May 2020.
Throughout 2018 while WRFW celebrated its 50th anniversary, Norman was one of the lead organizers for the station's daylong celebration on Nov. 3, 2018. Norman also curated a WRFW history exhibit at the River Falls Public Library. That day, Norman reunited with countless students he had mentored at the radio station he helped create, and met current students who were continuing to produce content for the airwaves of western Wisconsin.
Norman’s legacy will always be attributed to his time as a teacher, a student, and founding member of WRFW at UW-River Falls. However, his friends, former students, and colleagues will always remember him for more than just his time there.
“Mike brought the Journalism Department into the computer age,” Callahan said. “In Fall 1987, students who had been using IBM electric typewriters the previous year walked into a writing lab now filled with computers, thanks to Mike. He made sure the department kept up with the ever-changing technology to prepare students for their future. When email first arrived, he was elated. Our offices were across from each other and our doors were always open. One morning I received an email from Mike that said, ‘Hi Colleen, how are you?’ I chuckled, rolled my chair backwards to my door and said, ‘You know, Mike, you could have just walked a few steps to ask me in person.’ He rolled toward his door, leaned back and said, ‘I know, but this is much more fun!’” Robinson also reflected on his longtime friend's legacy.
“Mike's legacy will be much broader than WRFW,” Robinson said. “He steered the journalism department through tough times for many years as department chair, maintaining its accreditation. He was instrumental in founding the university's marketing communications program. His novels are well-loved and grace many bookshelves. And he was well known — and his work appreciated for years — in regional theatre.”
“Mike always impressed me with how deeply connected he was to the greater River Falls area and I think that's due in part to his statute at UWRF but also because of his participation in the local/regional theater community,” Wurzer said. “We lost such a big-hearted, talented person much too soon. Mike was a gifted, elegant writer. That's quite clear from his Haunted Wisconsin series, but his broadcast writing was also top notch. He whipped me into a pretty decent writer of radio and TV copy and scripts. He would talk about the ‘economy of language’ which means using fewer, carefully curated words that leads to greater clarity. I always think about that when I grind out copy, every morning, for my radio show.”
Photo courtesy of Lorin Robinson