55 years and still teaching

Resting on a kitchen shelf in Russell Norman's Glendale home is a novelty coffee mug gifted to him two decades ago. "A good teacher teaches, a great teacher inspires," it reads.

It is a fitting message for a man who, 55 years after conducting his first accounting class at Glendale Community College, continues to educate and charm students and colleagues alike. Norman, 92, was recently honored by the Glendale Community College Board of Trustees for his five-and-a-half-decade tenure, believed to be the longest in the state.

"He is walking history of the college," said Phil Kazanjian, a former college trustee and current business professor who has known Norman since 1981. "He really knows the college. And in California I don't know anyone who has been teaching longer than he has."

Norman retired from full-time duties in 1995, but has continued to teach at least one class each semester since then. He has taught accounting, written business communications and mathematics in finance, interacting with thousands of students. In addition, during his first year at the college in 1955, he founded the business and judo clubs, the latter of which went on to win the first Southern California Kodokan Judo Assn. Collegiate Championship.

"He is such an interesting person, in addition to being an excellent instructor and faculty member," said Linda Serra, who is in charge of the college's business division. "Glendale college is and has been very lucky to have him."

While his longevity has made him an institution at the college, Norman's career in academia was no sure thing. He had a rough and tumble childhood in New York City, where his mother, a popular depression-era vaudeville performer, often left him in the care of burlesque dancers, he said.

Norman enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1940, but never saw combat during World War II due to an injury. He landed in Southern California and started working at Warner Bros. Studios. He met his wife of 65 years, Marilyn, in Glendale, eventually proposing to her on the balcony of the Alex Theatre.

Armed with the G.I. Bill, Russell Norman earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at UCLA before accepting a teaching position at Glendale Community College.

Norman had a tendency to bring "stray" students home for dinner, or for holidays, said Luana Norman, one of Russell and Marilyn Norman's four children. Sometimes foreign exchange students would stay for extended periods of time in a room above the garage.

"When anybody had a personal problem, they would go to his office and he would be a counselor and a friend," Luana Norman said.

Recently, a student raised his hand and told Norman that his grandfather and taken a class from the professor, she said.

"He is resilient," Luana Norman said. "I don't know that he ever took a sick day in the entire 55 years."

Some of his students have gone on to successful careers in business and accounting, and he remains in contact, tracing the progress of their careers.

"[I like] the feeling when they leave that you have made a friend, and you have been a part of that friend's life," Russell Norman said.

The professor is scheduled to teach again next semester, and he is looking forward to meeting a fresh crop of young people. Some students impress him starting on the very first day of class, Russell Norman said. Some never really grasped the subject matter at all.

"Then there are the others that you can see take hold and start to improve, and I guess that is where the greatest joy is," he said.

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