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Columbia Missourian

Virginia Norris was Carnegie Fellow at Harvard University, enjoyed traveling

By Jaime Williams
February 7, 2012 | 9:48 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Virginia Norris was an adventurer, an educator and a historian.

"She was just an inspiration to everybody," her niece Carol Evans said.

Virginia Norris of Columbia died Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at Lenoir Woods in Columbia. She was 93.

She was born Oct. 28, 1918, in Normal, Ill. to H.M. and Helen Taggart Colehower Norris.

She graduated from Normal Community High School, attended Illinois Wesleyan University and graduated cum laude from the University of Illinois in 1941.

She was a Carnegie Fellow in public administration in 1950 at Harvard University. Dr. Norris was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in agricultural education at The Ohio State University. 

"She was a groundbreaker in her own way," her nephew David Norris said.

Dr. Norris embarked on her 32-year professional career with the University of Missouri Extension Division in Shelby County. In 1959, she moved to Columbia, where she was a member of the Missouri 4-H department staff, was a district supervisor and taught graduate classes in adult education.

She was the assistant director of the College of Home Economics forExtension and retired in 1973.

"She did so much for so many people in extension and youth in 4-H," her friend Marie Sloan said. 

Dr. Norris was active in the Historical Bethel German Colony, the Columbia Art League and many other organizations. She was also an active member of the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia since 1960.

“What she revolved her whole life around was other people,” her brother Wallace Norris said. "There were so many good deeds that she did."

Sloan said Dr. Norris was very instrumental in seeing that Bethel's German colony was preserved.

"She gave to Columbia and Bethel and everyone who needed her," her niece said.

But her involvement in the historical colony was only one manifestation of her love of history.

"She put hours and hours into tracking her ancestors," her niece said.

Dr. Norris loved antiques and was interested in restoring old things.

She tried to pass on her interest in history to her nephew.  

"For me, personally, growing up in Illinois she encouraged exploration of Abraham Lincoln," he said. "She brought me to Springfield and other historical places and stimulated my interest in him."

Dr. Norris' nephew also described her as a world traveler. 

After retiring, she took both her nephews to Europe where they saw eight countries, and she took both her nieces to Canada.

"When Christmas time came around, you weren’t sure what you were going to get from Aunt Ginny, but it was always unusual," her nephew said. "It could be something from India or it could be an encyclopedia, but it was always something unique and stimulating."

Dr. Norris is survived by a brother, Wallace G. Norris; two nieces, Carol Evans and Beth Woolsey; two nephews, David Norris and Ben Stubblefield;three great-nephews and six great-nieces.

Her sister, Charlotte Stubblefield, died earlier.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the First Presbyterian Church, 16 Hitt St.

Services will be held at the historic Funks Grove Church, south of Bloomington, Ill., with burial in the church cemetery at 11 a.m. Feb. 13.

Memorials are suggested to the Missouri 4-H Foundation, 211 Whitten Hall, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211; or the McLean County Extension Service Foundation, 402 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington, IL 61704. Cards may be sent to Carol N. Evans, 132 W. Rowe Street, Roodhouse, IL 62082.