‘I Give Back Because I Can’: Norma High’s Story

Norma High, a volunteer who joined the Library in 1974, is so passionate about bringing books to people who can not otherwise access them that she got her whole family involved in the cause.

For nearly 44 years, Norma has volunteered with the Libraries in Residence program, delivering books to people in a continuing care facility. Norma, 85, is one of the Library’s longest-serving volunteers.

“I have always had a love for books,” Norma said. She loves visiting and bringing books to residents at Carewest Glenmore Park, an Alberta Health Services facility in southwest Calgary. With her background in nursing, Norma is a perfect fit for delivering books to the hospital’s residents.

“Volunteering is giving, giving back to the community, giving back because I can,” she said. “We want to put a little bit of sunshine into people’s lives.”

Norma’s husband, Bob High, started volunteering with Libraries in Residence in 1985.

“Besides delivering books, it was an opportunity to talk about local history and events with the residents,” said Bob, 88. He would sometimes go in place of Norma and went on to build his own relationships with the long-term care residents.

“It gives you a lot of satisfaction,” Bob said.

Hearing stories from residents and discussing books with them led Norma to share her experiences with her children, and later her grandchildren. Norma started to bring her son and daughter to volunteer with her when they were 13 and 11.

During their days off from school and over summer break, Alan High and Glenna High Bagley started to love volunteering. Norma saw her children learn how to share, and in Glenna’s case, she came out of her shell.

“I absolutely loved it,” Glenna said. She remembers being initially nervous around elderly people as a child, but she soon came to love delivering books and visiting with people. She said her son, Matthew, was as shy as she was when he started volunteering at the age of eight with his sister Taylor, age ten.

“I am so proud of my children and grandchildren,” Norma said.

Norma, who is called the “book lady” by hospital residents, found that residents rely on her book delivery every two weeks. One resident said books were more important than her bath, because books were what kept her at peace while in the hospital.

Norma and Bob, who have lived in Calgary for 48 years, keep a private collection of every genre of book you can think of. They enjoy travelling and have visited many places in Canada and around the world. On their travels, they pick up books to add to their catalogued collection — the oldest one being from the 1850s.

That extensive home library is popular with Norma’s children and grandchildren, who regularly borrow books from it. When they find a book they like and want to “inherit”, they mark it with their own coloured dot.

Norma continues to share her love of reading with hospital residents, and plans to for as long as she can — “until I fall over, or until I can’t push the cart anymore,” she said.

The High and Bagley families are leaving their three-generation legacy in another way, too. They are commemorating their love of reading and dedication to volunteering with two windows at New Central Library.

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