Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Great Norvak

A biography of Norvel Christenson as written to the best of her memory by his daughter Cindy. More stories to come from other of his children.
It was 69 years ago that the great Norvak, son of Minnie Neona (nie Christensen) and William Burr Christenson, was born. Actually, his name was Norvel, but his alter-ego, Norvak, would be entertained by 10s, if not 100s, of people the world over.
He was born at home in Heyburn, Idaho, in a home that bordered J.R. Simplot's potato processing plant and the Heyburn/Burley Highway. He was the baby of the family for a solid six years until a little sister, Norma, was born later. He was the eighth child.
Norvel's father was a mechanic and school bus driver. Neona was a homemaker who had her hands full, especially with Norvel.
Neona and Bill had one hard-and-fast rule: no breaking of the Sabbath. But Norvel and his brother Marvin and their friend, Wally Bradshaw, loved to fish. So they would wait until midnight following Sunday nights to go fishing.
Norvel grew up in the wilds of southern Idaho. He can remember when you could catch Salmon on the Snake River. His mother would constantly warn the children of the dangerous undercurrents of the Snake River. Like all good mothers of that generation, fear was the best instigator to get children to behave.
From the time he was a young boy, Norvel loved to sing. He had dreams of being a singer like Elvis Presley. He would sing to his 5th grade class at Heyburn Elementary School. 

Norvel at age 10 or 11.
Norvel is in the bottom center. From left to right, clockwise spiral: Larry, Loretta, Gladys, Darwin, Neona, Norvel, Willian, LaVaugn, and Marvin 

Norvel also loved cars. His first car was given to him at the age of 15. His siblings thought him spoiled. He loved his first car.
Norvel graduated from Minico High School in 1962 and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Eastern States Mission (Washington D.C. area) from 1963-1965. He would play football on the Washington Memorial lawn on P-Day.
When he returned home to Idaho, someone in his ward (I'm not clear on the story) advised him to go to college at BYU. He decided to go, and that's when he met Karen McEuen from Montebello, California.
Karen was Norvel's California Girl. They married on September 9, 1966, in the Los Angeles Temple. Norvel and Karen had their first child, Doug, while at BYU. They finished BYU with goals to be teachers.

Karen, Norvel, and little Doug outside the Abraham Smoot Building on BYU Campus
Their first teaching assignments were in Lewisville, Idaho, at a junior high. I'm not sure what Norvel taught. It was either P.E., science, or something. I know he also taught driver's education courses.

Karen taught science or English or something.

Their family grew. Amy and Brian were born in Lewisville. Soon Norvel was thinking he needed a better job to support his family.

The family moved back to Heyburn, where Norvel found a job selling fertilizer and working with his brother in a small sign business.

He was later offered a job by Don Ovitt of Don Ovitt Chevrolet to be a car dealer. Norvel loved being a car salesman. He was good at it, and he loved finding people a car.

He even won an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii for selling the most cars in 1981 (or was it '82). The children were dispersed out to friends and family for the week, so Karen and Norvel could take their one-and-only no-kids trip.

Don Ovitt's sold the Chevrolet dealership, so Norvel decided to go into business on his own with a partner. They opened Tri-Auto Sales, that later moved to a big building on Overland Avenue in Burley. They renamed their dealership Overland Auto.

During this time, Norvel and Karen continued to have children. In total, they had 10 children: Doug, Amy, Brian, Kathy, Cindy, B.J., Mary, Hetty, Wayne, and Edward.

To help augment the family's finances, Norvel started a janitorial business. At first he hired local youth from church. His employees became family friends. Bill Route and Joel Anderson, two of his employees, would also babysit for the bulging-at-the-seams family.

As the children grew older, Norvel would bring them into the family business. He wanted a way to teach his children about work, much like working on his small family farm did for his upbringing.

Norvel was fond of using one-line sentences to raise his children.
  • "Work builds character."
  • "Like river rocks, be smoothed by adversity."
  • "Always have something to look forward to."
  • "I'll give you something to cry about."
  • "There's always someone who has it worse than you."
  • "The works not done until we're all done."
Norvel also enjoyed spending time with his children by taking them fishing every Memorial Day, or going swimming at the hot springs in Oakley, Idaho. On trips to anywhere, he'd stop at a gas station and let all the children choose one treat.

One the favorite stopping places was a Flying J gas station in Snowville, Utah, where the family would stop on their way to visit relatives in Utah County. One son, Wayne, assumed that every where they went there'd be Snowville, which started a family saying: All roads lead to Snowville.

Norvel loved BYU football, and when Karen's brother Fred generously offered the large family some tickets to a game, Norvel would excitedly load up the family and head to Provo.

One of the fondest memories all the children have of Norvel was his bedtime routine of singing, "Good Night Ladies." Norvel would tuck in the children and then sing the song, and then at the end, he would act like he was leaving the room and then run into the door, which would cause him to run into a wall, which would cause him to fall onto the bed. It was great slapstick that would have the kids rolling with laughter.

The lyrics to the song go like this:

"Goodnight ladies; farewell gentlemen,
So long everyone....I'm going to leave you now.
Whup, whup. whup, merrily we roll along, roll along, roll along,
Merrily we roll along, that's a good time, too.
Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight...Woah!"

It wasn't until the children were older and performing the act for their own children that they realized how physical and tiring that one-act show was.

Norvel also served faithfully in various callings in church. He believed in never working on Sunday, just as his parents taught him in his youth, so he kept his business closed on Sundays. He's not sure he ever received any financial blessings from that decision. His dealership wasn't the most successful. Mom would say that if he'd sold cars to people who could have afforded them he would have done much better.

Norvel never gave up on his singing. He and Mom were always a part of the ward choir. For one ward activity, Norvel donned his alter-ego, Norvak, and he and Mom entertained audiences with "The Great Norvak" routine.

His assistant, Mom, would hand Norvak an envelope that would have a punchline written very small in the corner. He'd say the punchline to the audience, and then open the envelope and read the joke. It was a routine borrowed from Johnny Carson. Dad never had great sight. Ever since he was a boy he suffered from being legally blind in one eye, so he couldn't always read the punchline in the small lettering. So when he couldn't read it, Mom would try to whisper it to him without the audience noticing. Audiences loved it.

The fear of having to work for Dad the rest of their lives put a fire in all the children to leave home and get college educations. All 10 of his children have college degrees.

Norvel retired from the car business, and he and Karen served a mission for the LDS church in Texas. Texas and Norvel went together like barbecue and beans. He even managed to find the home of his idol, Chuck Norris.

So much more can be written, and will be written, on this blog about our paterfamilias (only, we're of Danish descent and Mormon, so I guess we would call him our patriarch). Words can't express how much we love him. He wouldn't want that anyhow. He'd rather us show our love by doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, washing the windows, or some other act of service.