“Busy hands are happy hands,” according to Norma Jansen. It’s something that she began learning as a young girl. She is the seventh of her cheese-maker father and home-maker mother’s nine children.
Jansen recalled, “We all had something to do. If you didn’t help in the kitchen, you worked in the factory. It was either washing separator discs or doing the dishes.”
Her neighborhood playmates lived a mile or two away in rural Richland County. But Jansen’s childhood memories also include the classics like “hide-and-seek” and “red rover, red rover.” Norma also liked to be a student attending a class in a one-room school house. And she began early on to take away some life-long skills.
Jansen explained, “We were raised with sewing. Mom made all of our dresses. The only time you wore jeans was when it was cold outside and you put them under your dress. You always wore a dress. When you got to school, you took off the jeans.”
When she became a mother, Jansen, in turn, would sew many of the clothes worn by her own three young children.
She went on, “I loved cooking and baking, and I still do that to this day.”
Her parents married when they were 15 and 17 years of age. Norma wound up following their example. She recalled meeting Richard Jansen, a classmate of her older sister, at a basketball game. After he returned from the service, the couple was married in 1954. Norma was 17.
Richard had a life-long career at and would ultimately retire from Oscar Meyer. After their daughter, Nancy, opened a beauty parlor in Waunakee, he was there every day helping out. He passed away in 2005. Jansen drew a deep breath and said wistfully, “Wonderful husband. Wonderful father. I could not replace him.”
Jansen still lives in the home on Sixth Street where the couple moved in 1962 and where they raised their children Steve, Shelly and Nancy. Those children and their families still live in the area. Jansen has nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Over the years, Jansen worked for a time at the canning factory in Waunakee and for Hellenbrand Water. When her own daughter was little, she also watched after neighbor children.
“At times I had 5 or 6. It wasn’t day care years ago. It was babysitting. They were the neighbor kids who didn’t have anyplace to go” when their parents were at their jobs, she said.
“I feel better helping people than not doing anything,” was how Jansen summed up both her several jobs and numerous volunteer efforts around the community.
Jansen has been active in Waunakee’s American Legion Auxiliary for 46 years. She has been washing dishes every fish fry for quite a few of those years. She added cheerfully that she’s part of a “good crew.”
A member of the Waunakee Manor Auxiliary since 2005, Jansen helps with their bake sales.
“I specialize in lemon meringue pies. I have baked many,” she said. She also is involved with Pamper and Polish, a twice-a-month program at the Manor. The program’s purpose is to make residents feel special.
“Guys get their nails filed and ladies get their nails polished,” said Jansen.
All this while the 82-year old Jansen has battled lymphoma since 1995. Having already lost her mom to cancer, Jansen knew at that first diagnosis she might not have much time left. But since that day she’s taken the attitude, “I may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me. And that’s how I live.
“I don’t feel sorry for myself. I think it’s made me stronger, I really do. Just because the ‘Big C’ has you, doesn’t mean you’re done.”
With a smile and a hint of pride she noted that’s she’s on her third oncologist. When asked how the medical profession views her longevity, she chirped, “They can’t explain it!”
She is currently taking part in a cancer study. She views her participation as something that can help her as well as others. She thinks, “If it works for me, it will work for someone else,” she said.
You can often see Jansen’s “busy hands” dusting, vacuuming and doing windows at her daughter’s salon. It’s her conscious purpose to demonstrate every day a positive approach to living, that life is too precious to waste. About her presence at the shop, Jansen declared, “If I wanted to be a sad sack, I wouldn’t be here.”