Making a Difference:
NR’s lucky to have Norm, Sharon Eckart
SMALL TOWN PROUD — Sharon and Norm Eckart with their dog, Corky, who they of course obtained from a neighbor, are proud to call New Richland home, evidenced by the many volunteer activities they’re involved in. (Star Eagle photo by Jessica Lutgens)
By JESSICA LUTGENS
To some, they’re parents. To others, they’re grandparents. And to our community, they are pillars, giving an abundance of time, effort, and care, never asking for a thing in return.
Norm and Sharon Eckart are natives of New Richland; both grew up here and graduated from New Richland-Hartland High School. They married young, and Norm, a Vietnam veteran, was drafted into the military, where he served three years shortly after their marriage. But nothing could hinder their relationship.
“We were high school sweethearts,” Sharon commented humorously, although the endearing look exchanged between the two said it all.
“We’ve had arguments, just like anyone,” Norm said, “but we always sit and discuss it.”
It’s not hard to see how happy they are together. “I’ve never thought of divorce,” Sharon said. “Maybe murder a couple times, but never divorce!”
Throughout her working life, Sharon was employed at Quiram’s Bakery for 30 years, a Sunday School teacher at St. Peter Lutheran Church for 30 years, and worked in the kitchen at NRHEG in New Richland for five years. She currently is a substitute for both the school and the church, as a Sunday School teacher. Norm, after leaving the military, worked for 37 years at Brown Printing in Waseca.
Family is incredibly important to these two, and although they don’t have the largest family – biologically, anyway – numerous children and teens around town know them as “Grandma and Grandpa.” They have two children: Michael and Debra Arvis, and Michelle and Allan Kraay; and four grandchildren: Chris and Eric Arvis and Cody and Dalton Kraay.
New Richland has not always been home to the Eckarts. Norm has visited 49 states, with Alaska being the only exception, and Sharon’s been to almost as many. They also lived in Colorado Springs, CO and Augusta, GA for a short time, but they prefer small-town life.
“There always seems to be greener pastures,” Norm said as he recalled their travels, “but we’ve been there, and it’s not the case. People didn’t go out of their way to be friendly.”
There are many aspects of living in a small community that appeal to these two: the polite and friendly people, the security of everyone knowing everyone, and the better education system, to name a few.
The Eckarts explained how close they are with their neighbors; they even acquired their pet dog, Corky, from one.
“Here, you could leave for a week, give the neighbor the key and tell ‘em to feed the cat. If you did that in a big city, you’d come home to bare walls,” said Norm. “You can trust people here.”
Like anywhere else, New Richland isn’t perfect, and when asked if there was anything they would change, if possible, their opinions were refreshingly surprising.
“We need to change the old ways of thinking,” Norm explained. “The younger generation is more intelligent and open-minded, and we need them to bring in new ideas. There are a lot of people who are ‘set in their ways,' things are changing too fast to be close-minded.”
He also expressed how important it is to put in the work if you want to get ahead.
“You want change? Help make it happen,” Norm continued. “I always say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
Throughout their years and experiences of so many different places and cultures, the Eckarts have developed very admirable values; yet they remain humble.
“I just treat people how I want them to treat me,” said Sharon. “You know, the Golden Rule.”
“We respect people,” Norm added, “hoping they respect us back.”
It’s hard not to respect these two, though, with all they do for our community. Both are very passionate about the Food Shelf, having volunteered at the NRAFS for years. They are currently active there, and encourage anyone in need to visit.
“Sometimes people need the help,” Norm said, “but don’t want to receive ‘charity’ or something. We don’t limit or discriminate — everyone is welcome.”
He went on to explain another age-old rule that so many people seem to forget – don’t judge a book by its cover.
“You gotta know the whole story,” he said.
Aside from their work at the Food Shelf, Norm and Sharon are also very active members of their church, St. Peter Lutheran – both are ushers, Norm is the church secretary, and Sharon is a substitute Sunday School teacher, a Congregational Thrivent Advocate and a member of the altar committee. Norm is also Member Director of the area American Legion, a Lions Club member, a Cub Scout Master and taught gun training for 17 years. Sharon currently volunteers at the New Richland Care Center, where she helps with bingo, and the annual fishing contest in Elysian. Norm also added that Sharon was one of the people to start the Red Hatters in New Richland, and she describes herself as an “old Red Hatter.”
“We have time for everything,” Sharon said, chuckling. She had made a list of all activities the two of them are involved in, as it’s quite extensive. But they like it that way.
“I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” said Sharon, and Norm agreed.
The Eckarts are very busy people, but they stay optimistic; it’s obvious when you get them talking - their eyes light up when they talk about the things they’re passionate about. One can tell just how much they care about this town, and we’re lucky to have them.
People like Norm and Sharon – kind, generous, genuinely good people – are hard to come by these days, and our little community is proud that they call it home — for all they have done and continue to do for our town, and for being a perfect example of the type of person we all should strive to be.