Shirley passed away on April 11, 2023, at the age of 96.
Shirley Ann Ruth Pierson Norberg was one of those bright souls that left a trail of stardust in her wake mixed with a bit of soot, a big dollop of humor, all wrapped in humility. She was a favorite soul in the eyes and caring hands of the Hospice care team and care providers at Parkside, where she completed her life, we heard over and over again “Shirley is my favorite!”, “We love Shirley so much!” “Shirley is a part of my family.” The distress and concern for her not to be in pain as she approached her death were genuine. She was attended to with dignity and empathy, for which we are thankful.
As a child of The Great Depression, Shirley was an involuntary minimalist, which stayed with her for life. Over the course of her 35-year marriage to Willard Norberg, she had everything she needed for herself and her family, but “things” were never important to her. She raised her four children in the unique way only a professional musician could, earning a paycheck but playing entirely to convey a message of peace and comfort through the voice of her violin. This gift she shared endlessly with strangers, friends, and family. Only a few children get the privilege of growing up with daily musical nourishment from a violinist.
Shirley will always be a source of fun memories, for her children, Denise, Carol, Roger, and Sandy, and her children-in-law, David Johnson, Mike Bennett, Susan Norberg, and Mac Shoulders. Her children are forever grateful that she was not a divisive family matron, but a caring and loving one who expected nothing more than for us all to get along.
For her grandchildren, Will, Anna, Leslie, Carl, Callie, Lynley, Gus, and Caleb, their cherished memories will not dim, and she will forever be the source of storytelling among them and laughter. They have a library of shenanigans to recount, especially her April Fool’s Day pranks and her incognito bottle stuffing runs to the recycling facility in Iron Mountain, Michigan. She had pointed comments used to shock and amuse and taught them all how important music is in their world.
She was the oldest of three sisters. Beverly and Nancy were her younger siblings. Their parents had both passed away by the time Shirley was 9 years old. They were orphaned very young and taken in by benevolent relatives in Sioux City, Iowa. Due to the hardship of the time, they were separated, Beverly to one household and Nancy with Shirley to another. All three were blessed with fortitude, a sense of humor, determination, and art. Beverly was a “home ec goddess” with the talent to bring together two seemingly unrelated pieces of textile and create a finely crafted and beautiful piece of clothing for someone. She was also a master chef and baker. Nancy is a librarian and a fine cellist but also developed an insatiable curiosity for crafting handmade rugs, dolls, and tied quilts which she shares widely.
Shirley was a natural musician, but her art skills were limited to drawing stick figures. For many years her nimble musician’s hands crafted crocheted blankets for anyone who even hinted that they would like to have one. She was a connoisseur of leftover yarn, from which she made what she affectionately called “ugly blankets” that she hoped might reach less fortunate people in need of warmth. Her starting point was a bag of miscellaneous yarn stubs, from which random pulls were crocheted without care for color or texture. Shirley never shied away from a crocheting challenge. Her body of work included: sweaters for Gus’s stuffed animals, a custom crocheted ski hat, and a thong-bottomed bathing suit for a Barbie doll.
Shirley had her musician community but also her social community. She and Willard entertained and socialized in the full-on 1960s style. Her networks were expansive, including church family, Covenant Village and Parkside friends, and her rock star status in Talkeetna, Alaska. Shirley visited Sandy in Talkeetna year after year for months at a time. Among her experiences there were: flying in a small plane and landing on a glacier more than once (Shirley did not like to fly), riding on a dog sled twice, once as an “ Iditarider” where she was dumped out of the sled (at the age of 80), being a star for numerous local concerts to support the local radio station, and teaching violin which helped establish a string program for Denali Arts Council. She built her own friendships and was a constant support for Sandy and Mac as they navigated parenthood.
Throughout Shirley’s life, she was generous, funny, encouraging, providing us with an expectation that she would always be there – and she always will be.