Norma Turnbull, beloved mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, left this mortal realm on October 4, 2020, at her home in Meridian, Idaho, at the age of 93. She passed peacefully, dressed in her favorite red pajamas, surrounded by angels, and eager for the awaiting embrace of her husband, Bill, who preceded her by 18 years. She left nothing unexpressed or unfinished—only a bountiful legacy to be carried forward by her 5 children, 21 grandchildren, and 45 great-grandchildren.
She was born April 27, 1927, in Shelley, Idaho, to Jesse and Wanetta Pugmire, and was the fourth of five children (Bertha, Verda, Lawrence, and Ronald). Her sharecropper parents, who scratched their existence out of the soil, were poor by any objective measure of wealth, but rich in the values of hard work and devotion to family, community, and church. Their mother made the family’s butter, soap, and even Norma’s dresses (a catalyst for Norma’s later appreciation for fashion), but they were always thankful for the bounty their labor provided. Faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, they lived the Laws of Tithing and Consecration. One of the most deeply ingrained memories of Norma’s childhood was her mother putting 90 percent of the family’s income in one apron pocket, and the remaining 10 percent in the other pocket for the Church. She was a straight-A student and lightning fast on the track. She could outrun any boy in school, a skill that served her well as she blossomed into womanhood.
Norma graduated from Shelley High School in 1944 and attended Utah State University for two years before returning to Idaho Falls to work as a bookkeeper for an insurance company. To supplement her income, she also worked as a dress model in the city’s most exclusive women’s clothing boutique, Levine’s. It was a bygone era when patrons paid young, attractive women to model their clothes rather than suffer the indignity of disrobing in a changing room. For Norma, it was a welcome break from haunting memories of grade school classmates making fun of her homemade clothes. Norma embraced and cultivated a sense of style that belied her upbringing; she firmly believed that a lady should never go downtown unless her hair and makeup were properly done, and she were wearing a dress, heels, and gloves. Her work as a dress model also gave birth to a family tradition — Each Christmas, one of Norma’s gifts would be a new outfit from Levine’s, which she would model for the family after the children had opened their gifts.
In 1949, Norma caught the eye of Bill Turnbull as she walked to work smartly dressed in a suit and heels. Bill, who was passing by in his new convertible, nearly veered off the road at the sight of her. He was a veteran World War II Navy pilot who had returned home and found work as a cabinet maker. But despite his matinee idol good looks and gregarious personality, Bill was finding it difficult to find a suitable wife, until then. He hunted down a friend who knew Norma and asked him to make the introduction. Norma was 22 years old (borderline spinster by the standards of the day), but she was no pushover. Still, having sifted through a bevy of would-be paramours, she immediately spotted in Bill the qualities she wanted in a husband -- He was handsome, witty, a hard worker, and, crucially, he made her laugh. They were married on July 27, 1950, in Idaho Falls. A few years later, Bill embraced Norma’s faith, and their marriage was sealed in the Idaho Falls LDS Temple. The fun and laughter continued for 52 years of marriage.
Bill continued working by day as a cabinet maker, but by night and on weekends, he built and sold homes. The Baby Boom generation needed housing, and Bill was happy to oblige. Bill built the newlywed’s first home on Lincoln Road, where they welcomed their first two children, Kathryn Ann and William Brent. He built their second home a little further down the road, where they welcomed 3 more children, David Watson, Steven Wade, and Julie. With Norma’s encouragement, Bill opened his own business, built a shop behind the family’s home, and Turnbull Millwork Company was born. Norma kept the company’s books from a small office in the basement. Her dawn-to-dusk work ethic was stretched, as she also met the challenges of raising five children, maintaining an impeccable home (and a rose garden, of which she was very proud), and serving in the Church, all of which she did with an indefatigable sense of ease and grace. Norma furnished the family’s living room with a console stereo (from which classical music continuously flowed), a piano (which each of her children learned to play), and a fireplace flanked by two bookshelves, with scriptures and church authors on the right, and classic literature on the left.
In 1972, Bill and his sons built the family’s cabin in the mountains of Island Park, Idaho, and it became the family’s weekend playground for water skiing in the summer and snowmobiling in the winter. Norma was a constant, sunny presence on the shore of Hebgen Lake as the kids water skied, offering a towel as they returned from the water and handing out sandwiches and soft drinks. But she never went on the boat or in the water, as that would have ruined her hair for church the next day. (Yes, you read that right.) She was a skilled and tenaciously competitive Pinochle player, and during a “friendly" game of spoons she was known to dive onto the table and wrestle the spoon from whatever grip was also claiming it.
Years flew by and her children grew and left home, but the nest did not long remain empty as grandchildren began to arrive in waves. By 1980, Norma and Bill had moved into a new home in Rexburg, Idaho, and it became the family seat for three generations of Turnbulls. By all appearances, Norma enjoyed being a grandmother as much as she did motherhood. If all the photographs of Norma reading bedtime stories to the grandchildren could be assembled, they would easily paper the walls of that home. In 1985, Bill and Norma sold the business and retired, moved to a townhouse in Idaho Falls, bought a second home in St. George, Utah, for the winter months, and lavished their attention on the grandchildren. In 1998, the couple fulfilled the lifelong dream of serving a mission in Nauvoo, Illinois. They also toured Europe, and Norma was enthralled at visiting the homelands of the great musicians and authors — Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Hugo, the Brontë sisters — that had so deeply inspired her.
After Bill’s passing in 2002, Norma moved to Salt Lake City and immediately formed a circle of treasured friends. She lived across the street from Temple Square in the Gateway Apartments until 2017, when she moved to The Abbington assisted living facility in Holladay, Utah. When COVID-19 restrictions led to her isolation from family, her children moved her to a senior living community in Meridian, Idaho, with 24-hour home health aids, who were her guardian angels for her remaining months. A faithful Latter-Day Saint to the end, Norma even tried to convert a couple of them to the faith. Her final months were spent in the loving embrace of her family.
She is survived by her younger brother, Ronald; her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Due to the pandemic, she will be laid to rest by her children in a graveside service.
Services will be held at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, October 17, 2020, at Ammon Cemetery.
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