Normans remembered as mild mannered, well liked

Couple were pillars of their community.

Barb and Charles Norman.jpg
Barb and Charles Norman were well liked members of their community, remembered fondly by many before their death on March 21, 2023.
Contributed / Carol Norman

PINE RIVER โ€” The agricultural community and Pine River community as a whole suffered a blow March 21 with the death of Charles and Barbara Norman, a well-liked couple living southwest of Pine River in Walden Township.

Following the death of the couple in a fire that destroyed their home, countless friends and neighbors shared kind comments about the well-liked farmers who had a reputation for their kind, generous nature.

"We exchanged not only labor and help with the farms, but machinery and everything else," said Bob Kangas, Charles' cousin. "And that was involved in making a living and we held back and forth, and now nobody kept track of who owed what. And that's the way it was in the old days."

Kangas, Cass County Commissioner, was very close to Charles while growing up. They were cousins and though Kangas was 10 years younger than Charles, they had a brotherly relationship. Kangas said Charles was the only person he knew who absolutely everyone liked. Charles didn't ever seem to even argue, much less fight.

I don't think there's anybody that could ever say that Chuck shorted them.
Robert Kangas

"All the years that I've known Chuck, he was so mild mannered," Kangas said. "I don't think he made any enemies in the world, because he was one of few people that I ever knew or met, or was that close to that I never, never had an argument or fight with."


Kangas said Charles was also a local history buff. He and Barbara would gladly invite those who stopped by to buy hay inside to talk.

"He always liked to invite them in for a cup of coffee when they got there," Kangas said. "Not only that, he liked to visit and he was the kind of person that was a historian in a lot of ways."

After the fire, dozens of people on Facebook reminisced about buying hay from Charles, or spending time with Barbara while the hay was loaded up. Also a mild, kind person, Barbara was a good match for Charles.

"Barb was always a good neighbor," Kangas said. "We accepted her as a relative and we always went to church together. She was very, like Chuck, soft spoken and I don't think she had any enemies in this whole world either."

Charles grew up in a big family of eight children. His father Oscar and mother Jenny raised him and his siblings in a stable, religious household. They were trained in self control and moderation. They weren't allowed to drink until they were 21 or partake in other questionable activities, but they made their own fun fishing, hunting, picking rocks and milking cows.

Barb and Charles Norman Wedding.jpg
Barb and Charles Norman lost their lives together in a house fire on March 21, 2023.
Contributed / Carol Norman

"Dad had enough sense to know that if we didn't smoke or drink until we were 21, that we would have developed some decent habits," said Robert Norman, Charles' younger brother. "And none of my brothers are addicted. And so it was a good example."

Robert Norman was named after his uncle, also named Robert Kangas. Robert Norman said his brother was always someone he looked up to.

"Chuck was a role model," Robert Norman said. "He was the pillar of the family, the oldest child born to the Oscar and Jenny family, and he was named after our grandpa Charles Kangas. In high school he was brilliant. I mean, he took foreign language, advanced math. I always envied him because he was a smart one."


In his later life, Charles served on the township board and the board of the Pine River Bank, the dairy board and many other groups.

Family is receiving support from the community

"Chuck was very knowledgeable and respected," Kangas said.

After school, Charles joined the Army, but he returned home after the death of his father. He was eventually granted a hardship discharge and settled back home. Years later, when he was married to Barbara, from Walker, Robert Norman was Charles' best man. Charles would later return the favor.

Robert Norman said his brother and sister-in-law bought their property and built it up starting in 1940. As with anything, Barbara and Charles put a lot of work and pride into their home.

"They added and remodeled and made a beautiful, beautiful home out of it," Robert Norman said. "And you know, a house isn't a home until people live in it."

Barbara prided herself in keeping the property looking pristine.

"Chuck's wife was a meticulous groundskeeper she kept the yard and everything mowed impeccably," Robert Norman said.

Charles was ahead of his time when it came to important agricultural practices like insemination, and he used that to build up a herd he sold off in the mid 90s. His brother said he was a practical, logical and very smart farmer.


In his later years, Charles had health issues. With help from Barbara and others he battled his way back to health following a stroke. Robert Norman said that his nephew, Charles Dean Norman made the later years easier.

"Thank God that he was around there to keep track of Chuck and Barb," Robert Norman said. "Because as you get older, it's not easier."

Charles seemed to be doing well, healthwise, as some who saw him recently at a grocery commented in a Facebook post. Charles' cousin made a similar observation.

(Barb) was a meticulous groundskeeper she kept the yard and everything mowed impeccably.
Robert Norman

"That was a real shocker when when they both passed like they did because Chuck was doing so well health wise," Kangas said. "Five years ago he was not doing very good."

Since day one, the Normans' family has been forthcoming with information on the incident, and grateful to those who have reached out to offer help. Robert Norman said he will miss his brother, but that he's already found acceptance in the outcome of the tragedy that shook the township with the first light of the morning on March 21.

"He was a part of the community," Kangas said. "An important part of the community too, because I don't think there's anybody that could ever say that Chuck shorted them."

Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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