Norma Jacob has called Marion home for 75 years. When the almost 99-year-old was told to keep her active lifestyle she needed a total knee replacement, she didn’t hesitate. Neither did her orthopedic surgeon, who deemed her physically fit to undergo a major operation at an advanced age.
Five weeks after, Norma was back home living independently, including raking leaves, pulling weeds and pushing a wheelbarrow. Not unusual for the person neighbors call “Wonder Woman.”
“I know I’m getting up in years. I don’t even buy green bananas anymore,” she wryly quipped. “You have to keep moving.”
“She’s always been strong, both physically and mentally,” said son Dean Jacob. “Even though she’s now under 5 feet tall, she can outwork any of us. We call her the ‘Energizer Bunny.’”
Norma arrived in Marion in 1947. She came from a town near St. Louis when she met her husband, George “Jake” Jacob, during World War II. He was an officer stationed at an Italian prisoner of war camp near Norma’s hometown.
“I was engaged to another man at the time I met Jake, but he really swept me off my feet. He was a gentle man with a good sense of humor and lots of fun,” said Norma.
George was from Niagara Falls, New York. They wanted to live halfway between hometowns after marrying in 1945. They remembered driving through Marion on a trip from Missouri to New York and were impressed with its liveliness.
When a job opportunity operating a Sonotone Hearing Aid office arose in Marion, they jumped. George did sales and Norma managed the office.
“We met wonderful people through that office. By helping them, we became like family to many customers,” said Norma.
In 1961, another opportunity presented itself. Investors approached George to co-own and manage the new Southland Bowling Lanes.
“We opened behind Super Duper and Fashion Fair, before the Southland Mall was built,” remembered Norma.
Again, it became a family affair. George ran daily business and Norma helped any way she could. Dean also became a fixture, helping his parents and throwing a few games of bowling.
“The bowling business boomed in the 1960s and 1970s,” said Norma. “We had over 2,000 league bowlers a week. That business was very good to us and gave us another opportunity to meet many wonderful people.”
The political bug bit Norma in the 1950s. She was elected both as a ward city councilmember and a councilmember-at-large between 1958 and 1963. She was active in the Democratic Party, serving as president of the Marion County Democratic Club. In the 1970s she was the Marion County campaign manager for candidates like Sheriff Max Ross, Gov. John Gilligan, and U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum. Dean attributes her success in business and politics to being a true people person.
“She’s never met a stranger and never forgets you,” he said. “She can converse with anyone, whether governor, senator or a regular Joe.’”
Norma was appointed 13 times by both Democratic and Republican Ohio governors to serve for 26 years on the Ohio Parks and Recreation Advisory Council. She’s still serving as one of the two court-appointed jury commissioners for Marion County.
“It keeps me busy, and I like to know what’s going on at the courthouse,” she said.
Norma is anxious to continue volunteering at St. Mary Church where she’s been one of the cleaning ladies for many years.
George and Norma enjoyed 44 years of marriage until George died in 1989. Norma continues to live in their house which was built in 1962. Now her pride and joy is her 18-month-old great-grandchild, Jake, named after her husband. During recovery from surgery, the two of them pushed walkers around the house, as he encouraged her physical therapy.
“Marion has been really great to us. We couldn’t have picked a better place to make our home and raise our family,” says Norma. She’s still doing it at 99.