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The work of his hands: Craftsman Don Norman is Fall City Days marshal
The cherry-wood cases are freshly stained, curing in a row, and other pieces of Don Norman’s latest big project, a custom kitchen island for a Lake Stevens home, are lined up nearby.
He’s set to deliver them today to the job site. Once this is done, doubtless another project will come up, like that long-delayed kitchen table restoration waiting near the door.
These woodworking jobs would provide a fun challenge for a man 20 or 30 years Don’s junior. Yet, one might be surprised that a man of 82 is still this involved in the woodworking business. Then again, that’s Don’s way.
His wife Barbara would love to see her husband hang up the business—“I’d rather he retired and did the yard,” she says.
But Don loves the smell of sawdust. His adult life, and a good part of his teens, were spent in and around woodshops. After more than six decades, he still finds satisfaction in something crafted with his own hands and tools.
A northwest life
Don’s local history and talents have earned him recognition as the Fall City Days grand marshal for 2012.
Don and Barbara have lived in Fall City for 25 years.
Their life together dates back to their teen years in the Bellingham area.
Barbara, maiden name Brys, grew up in Ferndale, Wash., living on a dairy farm in her teens. She didn’t care for farm life. Don was the son of a college engineer; his mother was a seamstress and draper.
Don tended to skip class a lot, going to work for his uncle, “so he could come back and go to shop,” Barbara said. “He didn’t graduate until the year I did.”
When Don and Barbara married in 1950, he was 20, she was 17.
“Quite a few of us got married that young,” Barbara said.
Don soon moved to Seattle for work, getting jobs at service stations, “all kinds of things.” An early job was at the Albers Flour Mill, where he started doing clean-up, eventually testing the product.
“It was all right,” Don said of the work. “But not something I really liked.”
Don served eight years in the Naval Reserve. In 1958, he took a job at the Pocock Racing Shell Company on the University of Washington campus, building the shells.
“They were all wood at the time,” in the years before shells were made of fiberglass.
“It was exacting work,” Don said. “Everything had to fit perfectly, otherwise they fall apart.”
In the 1970s, he and Barbara made three trips across the country for the shell maker.
In a one-ton truck, shells in a trailer hanging over the front and back, they cruised across America, delivering the boats to colleges on the East Coast.
“I had to watch the wires,” Barbara said. “When we went around the corner, the shells”—”were out there,” Don finishes.
The Normans lived all over the Eastside. Don left the shellmaker in 1985, and worked for a succession of Issaquah-area carpentry shops. He ultimately gave up on working with other folks, and went independent.
“When the last company went belly up, I said, ‘We’re working right here,’” he said, referring to his own personal shop. He still prefers to do it on his own.
Besides the boards, the Norman shop has a few mementos—an old electric forklist that needs a new home, gear from old jobs. There’s a huge wooden rocking chair, a prop Don made for the theater.
“My legs don’t hit the floor,” Don says, smiling.
A family photo book made for Don’s 80th birthday captured his life’s work, and shows photos of his younger days and life’s projects.
Three years ago, Don spent the better part of a year making custom cabinets and furnishings for a new home built at the Fall City Tree Farm.
Every wood has a different character, and Don minds the precision techniques necessary to do his job.
“Just keep your eyes open,” he says.
“He hasn’t lost a finger yet,” says Barbara, counting Don’s digits.
“Your equipment doesn’t have brains,” Don said. That means you’ve got to do the thinking.
He still does jobs and fills special orders, often by word of mouth. Don says he’d rather do this than anything else.
“I just enjoy the finished products,” he said.
When Don rides down the street as grand marshal, Barbara will be there riding with him, “if he wants me to,” she says, laughing with Don. “They told us we could have family with us.”
“Our kids think it’s neat,” Barbara said. A group of their family will gather on Fall City Days to help them celebrate.
Family is very important to both Barbara and Don, and their home’s walls are crowded with photos of ancestors and their three children, Bruce, Ruth and Annette, nine grandchildren and 19 greats.
They’re active in their church and have a group of close friends who they like to dine out with.
“We hit all our birthdays,” Barbara said.
When they first moved to the Eastside, the area had “two, maybe three places to eat, and they all closed down at 9 o’clock,” Barbara said. “And he worked until 10.”
It was during Don’s Issaquah working days that the Normans settled in Fall City.
“We had a fifth wheel and we were looking for a place to put it,” Barbara said. They grew to love the community, and still do.
“It’s beautiful,” says Barbara.
“I think it’s a lovely place to live,” Don said. He’s never wanted the place to change.
“If it grows, it won’t be the same,” Don says.
Seth Truscott/Staff Photo
Their collection of ancestors’ photos on the wall behind them, Barbara and Don Norman of Fall City will ride in a place of honor during the Fall City Days parade.