Steven Norman was a professional gymnast before educating young minds in the field of natural science.
WEST ORANGE – Steven James Norman, a former science teacher at West Orange and Windermere high schools, was not one to shy away from his passions.
From catching butterflies as a kid, to performing acrobatic stunts in mid-air, to instilling a scientific interest in young minds, Mr. Norman was the type of person who made his values and passions clear with his actions and accomplishments.
And one of those values, as many who knew him emphatically agree on, was just “being an overall good guy.”
Mr. Norman died Tuesday, Feb. 20, after being taken off life support following extensive injuries sustained in a traffic accident. He was 64.
He is well remembered for being generous, gentle, kind and always willing to help, as well as for the three loves in his life: science, gymnastics and animals.
FOR THE LOVE OF SCIENCE
Having grown up as the son of a biology teacher, Mr. Norman developed a curiosity and respect for the sciences early on in his life — a curiosity that was further nurtured by annual family trips to a summer home in Vermont.
“We didn’t have video games or things like that, but we spent three months every summer up in Vermont because my father had a home on Lake Champlain in the middle of nowhere,” said Ohio resident Jill Mitchell, Mr. Norman’s sister. “The lake was our front yard, and we’d go into the lake, climb the cliffs, try to dig up fossils, chase butterflies — that was what we did for entertainment.”
That early introduction to the wonders of nature developed in him a fascination for geology and biology, leading him to become a high-school science teacher for nearly two decades for Orange County Public Schools.
But he didn’t begin teaching science until after he moved on from coaching gymnastics at a facility in Melbourne and, later, at a gym he personally owned in Orlando for about 15 years.
“School teaching was a second career for him, really,” Mitchell said. “Coaching and catching flying bodies is very rough on the body, and I think at some point in time, he recognized that he needed to find something else to do, and he was already a teacher because he was teaching gymnastics, so he parlayed that into being a school teacher.”
Before his career as a gymnastics coach, Mr. Norman, originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a professional gymnast.
He started his gymnastics training in elementary school and started competing in high school. In 1971, he obtained a full-ride gymnastics scholarship to Georgia Southern College.
“He was always very active,” Mitchell said. “My mother got him into sports very early, and he did very well in both gymnastics and diving. He was an exceptionally good diver, but then he had to quit diving because it conflicted with gymnastics and he ended up going into pole-vaulting for the last two years of high school.”
According to Mitchell, Mr. Norman still holds the record for pole-vaulting at Penn Hills High School.
COMPASSION FOR ANIMALS
Mr. Norman moved in 2004 to Groveland and owned a three-acre hobby farm where he grew oranges, mangos and pineapples and cared for several animals: a horse named Choice, a donkey named Patches and three dogs named Dakota, Oscar and Jake.
He didn’t mind waking up early every day to care for his animals before going to work, and money was no object when it came to their comfort and health, said Ernie Edmundson, Mr. Norman’s longtime neighbor and friend.
“His previous donkey, Abe, had sores on his feet and other health conditions,” Edmundson said. “Really and truly, the donkey should have been put down because of all the sores on his feet. But he would doctor it and put medicine on him and then put socks on his feet. He was a very strong animal-lover.”
His sister also attested to Mr. Norman’s love for his animals, which will be cared for by Edmundson’s family.
“He spent a lot of money to keep his animals healthy, happy and sound,” Mitchell said. “It was insane, the stuff he would do for his animals. He had a horse that’s been the longest love of his life. She’s turning 24 in a week. He had a burro named Abe for years, and when Abe died he got a miniature donkey to keep Choice company. He also has three dogs. There’s never been a time in his life when he didn’t have animals. He loved his animals; they were his children.”
Norman is survived by his sister, Jill Mitchell; his niece, Carolyn; and his nephew, Steve.
In lieu of flowers, Mr. Norman’s family would appreciate donations be made to the South Lake Animal League, 4648 Baptist Island Road, Groveland, in honor of Mr. Norman.