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Obituary

Wilburn E. "Webbs" Norman
Rockford, IL

Webbs Norman, 85, of Rockford, Illinois passed away in his home on Saturday, January 19, 2019. Born March 16, 1933 in Chattanooga, TN, he was the youngest son of David and Beulah Norman. He and his family moved to central Illinois during his early years. When his father gave up farming, his family moved to Morrison, Illinois. Between his teenage years when he graduated from Morrison High School in 1952 and his college days, Webbs took up such odd jobs as sewer cleaner, carnival barker, men's clothing store clerk, amateur boxer, GE truck driver, college frat house waiter and owner of a short-lived mobile ice cream cart business. It was while working on his bachelor's degree in education at the University of Illinois that he discovered his life's passion - parks and recreation.

Webbs first worked with the Rockford Park District in the summer of 1955 as a playground leader at Sunset Park. The following summer, he returned to Rockford as the director of RPD's playground program. After earning his Master's degree in Public Parks and Recreation from the University of Illinois in 1960, he worked with the Charleston, Westchester, Oak Park and Niles Park Districts before becoming the Executive Director of the Rockford Park District in 1972.

In his 34-year tenure at RPD, he embraced his role as public servant, quickly becoming a highly respected leader who cared deeply for patrons and employees as well as the entire Rockford region. A philosopher at heart, Webbs relished the opportunity to live by his core values while helping the Park District clarify and enact its own. He often quoted Roy Disney: when your values are clear, your decisions are easy. Known for his unfailing generosity, he worked every day to help people live their best lives, be it someone he knew well or had just met.

Under his leadership, the Park District became a nationally recognized park system and was first awarded the prestigious National Gold Medal in parks and recreation management in 1989. He spearheaded the creation of many local/regional attractions and facilities including the Riverview Ice House, Forest City Queen and Trolley, Sportscore, Magic Waters, Aldeen Golf Club, Carlson Ice Arena/Sapora Playworld and the city's beloved bike path.

Webbs loved being a connector, delighting in bringing together local and state agencies - public and private - to benefit of the community's citizens. The many partnerships established between RPD and local museums and schools are two great examples of his collaborative efforts. Deeply committed to public education, Webbs was a member of the "Gang of Eight," serving alongside seven other local business leaders devoted to strengthening Rockford's school system and economy in the 1980s and 90s.

Upon retirement in 2006, Webbs remained enthusiastically involved with RPD, supporting numerous projects with the Park District Foundation, most notably the Nicholas Conservatory. In addition, he co-authored Building a Lasting Dream 1909 to 2009: A History of the Rockford Park District, a book that chronicles the history and accomplishments of the district's first 100 years. He was humbled and honored when the Park District named its current headquarters at "the old post office" The Webbs Norman Center in 2008.

Webbs was devoted to his family and enjoyed spending time with his wife, children, grandchildren and extended family members. A formidable and highly competitive croquet player, he was often the victor of many a backyard game. He viewed his children - Charlie, Kathy, Patty, Dan and Aaron - as well as his grandchildren - Katy, Ellie and Abe - as his greatest legacy.

A long-time member of Zion Lutheran Church, Webbs worked the sound booth, served on committees, and regularly attended Sunday services as his health allowed. He also enjoyed serving as a member of the Loves Park Civil Service Commission.

Survivors include wife, Mary of Rockford; daughter, Patty of San Antonio; son Dan and Maureen of Waunakee, WI; step-son, Aaron and Jill Dinges of Des Moines, IA; his grandchildren, Katy, Ellie and Abe; and numerous nieces and nephews. Predeceased by mother, Beulah; father, David; brothers Ralph, Kenny and Dave; son, Charlie; and daughter, Kathy.

Visitation at Zion Lutheran Church Friday, February 1 from 3:00-7:00 p.m. Webbs' Graduation Ceremony will be held at Mercyhealth Sportscore Two, 8800 E. Riverside Blvd., Loves Park, Saturday, February 2 at 11:00 a.m., with a time of fellowship. Rev. Dr. Michael Thomas officiating. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Rockford Park District Foundation, 401 S. Main St., Rockford, IL 61101 or Patriots' Gateway Community Center, 615 S. 5th St., Rockford, IL 61104 or Booker T. Washington Community Center, 1005 S. Court St., Rockford, IL 61102.

Condolences & Shared Memories (29)

  1. Rob Addis

    We've lost a special man. Special to his city, his park district, his church and his beloved family. We will never know just how many lives Webbs touched and improved. How many smiles he brought to those he never knew. A family friend and a mentor to many, Webbs was the go to guy for so many people. To say he will be missed is an understatement, he will be remembered and his legacy will live on forever. RIP Webbs Norman, the smiles you generated will continue to grow.

  2. Mark Burkhardt

    Webbs Norman was truly an inspirational man. He had the "gift" of making you feel at ease when you had a personal conversation with him. He was a man I truly admired and respected. I am a better person from knowing him. I will always remember how he started full staff meetings at the district. He would say "Good morning to the men and women of the Rockford Park District." God bless the Norman family.

  3. Judy Roby

    I was fortunate to work with and learn from Webb's. My condolences to Mary and family.

  4. Wayne Spitzer

    Webbs was an optimist. He had faith in the ability of people to solve problems and overcome obstacles. He always seemed to be looking for ways to serve people, to promote health in every way. It was a joy to know him.

  5. Norma Klentz

    I will miss Mr Norman. I waited on him for years. He once told me " wherever you go, Norma, there you are" wise words from a wise man.My condolences to his family.

  6. Norma Klentz-Lind

    He was such a kind & caring man. I have many memories of Mr Norman with the coffee guys at Park City where I waited on them for years. He once told me "Norma, whereever you go, there you are." Great words of wisdom. I will miss him.

  7. Jerry and Phyllis Burnam and families

    Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to Mary, Patty and Dan and family. Our lives have been entwined for many years with Webb's from college days forward. The generosity of the Norman family will always be remembered and appreciated. We were “houseguests” for almost 6 weeks while we were waiting to secure our house when we moved to Rockford to work briefly for the Park district. Many wonderful memories of a kind and generous man and his family. Heaven will have trouble keeping up with this new resident. God be with Mary, Patty, Dan and his family now and forever.

  8. Paul VonDriska

    I learned about Webbs from several of the people that worked for/learned from him. And I was fortunate enough to have lunch with him and amazed that he was willing to meet me close to my workplace...a very humble man. When I read all the stories about him combined with what I learned about him, the following quotes describe his leadership. “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” -John Quincy Adams “Leaders instill in their people a hope for success and a belief in themselves. Positive leaders empower people to accomplish their goals.” -Unknown “The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.” -John Maxwell When leaders throughout an organization take an active, genuine interest in the people they manage, when they invest real time to understand employees at a fundamental level, they create a climate for greater morale, loyalty, and, yes, growth. Patrick Lencioni People who have a sense of peace that their priorities are in the right place also have a sense of humility and a realistic view on life. Patrick Lencioni When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. Next best is a leader who is loved. next, one who is feared. The worst is one who is despised. If you don't trust the people, you make them untrustworthy. The Master doesn't talk, he acts. When his work is done, the people say, "Amazing: we did it, all by ourselves!" Lao Tzu

  9. JON OLSON

    Sorry old friend that I learned of your passing so long after you left us. I am grateful for all of our conversations and the good we were able to accomplish together over the years. Our community was the better for our partnership. We always had each other's back and for that I will be forever grateful. You were a true friend. I shall miss you and will always remember our promise to each other just before last Christmas. I did not realize at the time you would leave us so quickly. I will treasure that 2.5 hour chat forever. We will meet again. Till then your loyal friend. Jon Olson

  10. Lynette (Burnam) Baker, Kalamazoo, MI

    Webb is a fond childhood person in my life. Webb is my father Jerry Burnam's college and beyond good friend. One of my best memories was when we moved to Rockford and had the privilege of living with the Normans in their big family home for a short time. Webb was so loved by my parents that he was made my Godfather. I am sad to say goodbye but rejoice in knowing that he is in God's glory now. Much love to Patty and Danny.

  11. Ann Proudfoot

    I do not know where to begin! Working with the Rockford Park District has been the most wonderful opportunity given me. It has been over 40 years since the Riverview Ice Arena opened and being one of the first to be employed there was so rewarding not just for me, but our whole family. Opening day, Webbs was on the ice wiping down the glass windows, we were on the other side, he made sure we were the ones safe, the Ice house had to be spotless. That was just the beginning. What a smile! I have many memories Mary, and I do want to share them with you. You are so special to us, maybe I never express it to you, hopefully I will in the near future. Please know we are with you, with prayers, love and hugs from all of our families. Webb was our friend, and mentor, then and now. God Bless you and your families.

  12. John Allen Sapora

    On behalf of the Sapora family, our prayers and condolences reach out to the Norman family and the great people of Rockford. Webbs and my father, Dr. Allen V. Sapora of the University of Illinois, crossed paths in the summer of 1955 during the Rockford study to show the awesome potential of what a funded park district could do to improve the quality of life for people from all walks of life. I first “met” Webbs in 1960 when he drove many hours on two lane roads from Rockford to Champaign to celebrate my birth! In recent years I have enjoyed seeing Webbs and talking with him about family, leadership and his many projects. Webbs had a zest for life grounded in humble gratitude to God in all circumstances, and for me he embodies what self-giving love and true devotion can do for family, friendship and community. Webbs' life is God telling us we can live this joyful way too.

  13. Herschel &Nancy Brown

    Remember Me Remember me when Flowers bloom Early in the spring Remember me on sunny days Remember me in the fall As you walk through Leaves of gold In the winter time, remember me In the stories that one told But most of all…Remember Each day, right from the start I will be forever near For I live within your heart We'll also remember you when we look at the parks and playgrounds

  14. Bruce Atwood

    Twenty nine years ago, in January 1990, Rockford Register Star columnist Stan Buckles wrote a series of articles on leadership in Rockford. He described what he saw as leaderless Rockford. Stan said “It is never a happy thing to say of your community, namely, that leaderless officials populate Rockford's and Winnebago County's government.” After reading Stan's articles, the first thing I thought of was that he was forgetting about Webbs. I was a new Commissioner, but it was easy to recognize extremely effective leadership was going on in the RPD. Stan did not consider what constitutes effective leadership. A leader, by definition has followers. Peter Drucker has said that unless there is trust nobody will follow. Without trust work can only be accomplished through contractual relationships. Trust creates the potential for taking mutual advantage of all possibilities. Webbs, through management by values had built up a strong culture based on trust and respect of the individual and community. This sounds easy, but it takes years of effort to establish these relations at all levels, both internally and externally. Webbs had done this by developing, expressing, and defending values. The result is that Webbs had built an outstanding group â€" through participative management built on a belief in the potential of people. When such a solid base has been established then a leader can be truly effective. The strength of Webbs's vision and his commitment to ideas, values, and goals led the Park District a very long way in the years that Webbs was Executive Director.

  15. Mary Powell

    Webbs was a mentor to me for so many years. What started when Webbs helped me put together a program on Rockford for the Junior League to the many years we worked together on various projects with my clients from First National Bank and ultimately JPMorgan. Our early morning breakfasts at whatever place Webbs chose began great tutoring sessions for me. I learned so much from this joyous man. One of his great jewels was to remember the 3 A's-“Action Alleviates Anxiety”. That became my mantra as I battled Cancer and was the thing I told each of my children when things got tough. Now that I live full time in Arizona and am being treated for Multiple Myeloma, those words ring true each day! Wish I could be with all his friends and family to celebrate such a life well lived!

  16. Martha Strawser

    Condolences to all the Norman family and to the RPD family and friends. Webbs was a wonderful role model for positivity in life. He had a wonderful way of making whomever he was speaking with deep that they could accomplish anything that they wanted and were passionate about. It was a blessing to have known and worked with him. I am smiling about the playground games he is getting going amongst the angels!

  17. Frank Lupton

    Webbs Norman, what a man! It was my privilege to know him for 60 years. We were in Graduate School together at the University of Illinois Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies. When I was the Chairperson at Western Illinois University in the Department of Parks and Recreation we made him an Adjunct Faculty membered. He shared his knowledge and enthusiasm with "my" students on several visits to campus and beyond in Rockford when I took graduate and undergraduate students to Rockford to see the most outstanding park district and outdoor education and camping program in the State of Illinois. Webbs was the professional's professional! He was a great role model for my students on the many occasions when he interacted with them. I enjoyed telephone conversations with Webbs over the years and talked with him about his book writing along with great memories of our times of sharing information about his writing and our shared personal experiences. I know that Webbs was anticipating his "Graduation"! I regret not being at the funeral to hear the many great things that will be shared by his many friends, family and acquaintances. It will truly be a celebration of a person whose life made a very, very great difference in the lives of many, many people!!!

  18. Greg Orput

    As a kid the name Webbs was associated solely with the Riverview Icehouse. I clearly recall the relief my father felt, and the pride my Road-Runner teammates had to no longer make the early Sunday morning drives to the rickety Wagon Wheel for hockey. Rockford finally had its own Mad-House on Madison. While my own philanthropy falls woefully short, the great respect I have for Webbs grew from the sincere reverence my father had for the force that was Webbs and the community spaces, river walks and parks in which I was fortunate enough to play as a kid growing up in Rockford. His dedication to Rockford Community was sincere and never premised on the ego of naming rights. If it had been Rockford would most certainly now be named Webbsville. He was one of the "few" and has left a wonderful lasting footprint in Rockford's history. My sincerest condolences and appreciation to the entire Norman family.

  19. Marianne marshall

    Webb's was the greatest teacher I ever had. He taught so many of us at the RPD Business and more importantly life lessons that never have been forgotten. Not a week goes by where I don't find myself citing a “webbism” either to my family or coworkers. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to work and study under his guidance and am forever proud to be associated with such a fine person and organization. Prayers to his family and friends.

  20. John Hlade

    I first new Webbs in 1960. We were part of a new wave. recreation professionals trained to deliver recreation services. Webbs stood out in those years. His voice and leadership skills were recognized as he helped the recreation profession grow. My final years prior to retirement in 1998 were spent in Rockford, the very best of my career.

  21. Guillermo Rojas

    My deepest condolences for the entire Webbs Family. Our family moved here over two years ago from Chicago. One of the main things that impressed us were the Parks and what beauty they brought to the great city of Rockford Thank You Mr Webbs for all your hard work & vision

  22. Roberta Emerson Ingrassia

    Webbs was a man of love, determination, and dedication to the Rockford Park District and the city of Rockford. It was a joy to work with him and support his efforts to promote cooperation and collaboration of so many of the organizations in Rockford. My condolences to his family and all those of us who knew him and found their lives enriched by working with and knowing him.

  23. Lynne Istad

    I was able to raise two children who fully partook of all that Rockford ‘s amazing park district had to off a young family such as ours. It began with T- ball and arc ball where so many life lessons began! Our daughter began learn to skate classes when she was two and that was her springboard to the world of competitive figure sharing. 18 years of her life was devoted to training at Rivervirw ice house and Carlson Ice Arena. She became the National Colegate ladies champion representing our home town and Rock Valley College. So much of her life happened in the confines of her home rink. We traveled the country winning and sometimes losing but always being proud of representing Rockford and all that our home town stood for. Over the years we became close friends with Dan and Maureen and got a greater insight to who Webb's was and his philosophy on life and raising children ( you were a tough taskmaster sir). Our world is better because of you and I hope we all can remember your wisdom and dreams for each and every person who has called Rockford home. We need your vision today more than ever. May we all continue your dream and to pay it forward! Thank you!

  24. Carla "CJ" Giese

    Mary and Family; Please know that you are loved, hugged and prayed for during this time of grief. Webbs believed in me when I didn't believe in myself or anyone else. I'm here because of his compassionate filled and loving heart and the fact that he found value in who I was even when I didn't see it. I am forever thankful for him being willing to care and share his life and wisdom with me. Blessed to know him and you and glad we got a chance to have a quick chat over Thanksgiving weekend.

  25. Lori Addis McEntee

    Webb's was my first boss. His incredible standards and values made me the person I am today! I will always cherish our breakfast and lunch get togethers through the years, where we would exchange ideas and catch up with each other. His smile, hugs, and firm handshake will always be with me. Mary, please know you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  26. Kim Fiduccia

    What a great man! He was an inspiration to not only myself but so many others with the way he lived his life and his believes. He once announced that I was the only one that had worked at more facilities than he had. I was honored for the recognition. Until we can do lunch sir!

  27. India Blade

    R.I.P. sure will miss you from days at Hollywood to Top Hat and wonderful times at Stockholm Inn

  28. John Piccolin

    Great Man! I'm sure many people teared to hear of his loss. A true gentleman and a man who truly cared about his employees and all of the citizens of Rockford. Our condolences to his wife, Mary, his family and all of his friends, which are too numerous to mention. I am fortunate to have known and worked for Webbs. He was a dear friend and will truly be missed. His legacy is cast in concrete. God bless.

  29. Bill Sjostrom

    It was an honor being on the board with Webbs as director. He was not only my mentor but my friend.


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