Something in common: Pair of Good Samaritan residents reminisce about lifelong friendship

Lifelong friends together again ... Lifelong friends Marcella Selberg (left in above photo) and Norma Barr (right in above photo) are together once again now that Marcella has joined Norma as a resident of Good Samaritan Society in Waukon as of this past June. The two grew up a mile apart from each other and became friends early in life. Marcella’s family came across the photo at right of the two of them when they were moving her belongings from her apartment this past June. The photo is labeled “Boots and Norma, 1946” (Boots is Marcella Selberg’s nickname), and it now sits in Marcella’s room. Submitted photos.

by Lissa Blake

There is seemingly no end to the number of things Marcella (Kolsrud) Selberg and Norma (Sorenson) Barr have in common. Perhaps that is why they’ve remained friends for nearly all of their lives.

They were both baptized, confirmed and married at the Waterville Lutheran Church. They both attended Waterville Elementary and High School, participating in girls’ glee club, band and sports together. Both were raised in homes where Norwegian was spoken regularly.

And, as of June of this year, they now both reside at Good Samaritan Society in Waukon, where - much like their days growing up - they now keep up with each other on a daily basis.

Norma was born on the Fourth of July, 1924. “The doctor wasn’t available, so my two grandmothers delivered me,” said Norma.

Marcella was also born at home, March 20, 1925, with a doctor attending.

“We were farm girls who lived a mile apart. We went to the same church as infants. I suppose we went to Sunday school together,” remembered Marcella.

There was no kindergarten then, so the girls didn’t start school until first grade. Riding the same bus home, they became fast friends and stayed friends throughout the years. One big thing they had in common was that both of them had Norwegian ancestors.

“When my dad and mother wanted to have a conversation and they didn’t want us to know what they were saying, they would speak Norwegian,” said Norma.

Marcella, who speaks Norwegian, said, “Mine couldn’t fool me.”

Their family connections pre-date either of their births, as Norma’s grandfather, a Reverend Gronlid, confirmed Marcella’s mother. Over the years, the girls can remember family gatherings at each other’s houses for special holidays, like Christmas supper.

“We also had picnics and things together,” said Norma.

Both neighbors at home and friends at school, the list of activities they shared growing up was endless. “In fifth grade, we were in band together,” said Norma, adding she played the alto sax and Marcella played the slide trombone.

“There was the junior and senior play, and we were both second sopranos. And we played in sports together,” said Marcella.

Norma was on the Waterville High basketball team that went to State in 1940-41, but Marcella had to give up the sport in junior high, due to a heart condition.

When it came time to graduate in 1942, the girls shared the honor of being the valedictorian and salutatorian of Waterville High School.

Norma met her husband, Chet Barr Jr., while in high school, and Marcella met her husband, Paul Selberg, after high school. “I was in Norma’s wedding and her son, Gerry, was my ring bearer,” said Marcella.

And although the women’s lives sometimes took them on different paths, they always stayed in contact with one another. “I remember there were four of us who were all together in high school. Our music teacher called us the four little scamps,” remembered Marcella. The other two “scamps” were Clarice (Tysland) Goeke and Ruth (Swain) Hughes.

“Ruth moved away, but she always stopped to visit. And I visited her in Wisconsin,” said Marcella.

For many years, the foursome kept up what they called a “round-robin” letter. “One of us would start the letter and send it off to the next one. I think we responded within a week. You’d add something and send it off to the next one,” said Marcella.

Marcella and her husband, Paul, lived on the Selberg family farm south of Waukon for 60 years. They had three children: Kevin Selberg of Waukon, Kyle Selberg of Riverview and Nyla Kennard of Coppel, TX. Today, there are also seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild in her family.

In the early years of Norma’s relationship with Chet, he was in the Air Force, where he flew 35 missions over Germany. While he was serving overseas, Norma did a variety of things before eventually getting a job on the rationing board in Waukon and rooming with “Granny Kelly”.

“During World War II, tires were rationed … sugar was rationed … canned goods and gas was rationed…,” said Norma. “I handed out the books … even a little baby got a rationing book.”

Chet and Norma were married in 1945 when Chet returned home from the service. Together, they started Barr’s Postcard News, which was a publication for stamp and postcard-collecting enthusiasts.

They had four children, including Gerry Barr of Marion, Sherryl Palmer of Omaha, NE, Craig Barr of Cedar Rapids and Candy Coté of Columbus, OH. Today, there are a total of 18 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

Norma, who just turned 94 in July, said she moved to Good Sam a couple of years ago. Marcella, 93, moved there in June of this year.

“We see each other all the time every day. We eat together, we play bingo together. It’s interesting,” said Norma.

Marcella said she was happy to make her home at Good Sam because her good friend, Norma, was already there. “This is my home now, and Boots (Marcella’s nickname) just makes it more of a home for me,” said Norma.

When asked what their secret is to a friendship which has endured almost 90 years, Marcella said, “We never disagreed about anything.”

Norma added, “I guess we just have so much in common - and we had so much in common when we started.”

“We’re both Lutherans. I think a strong faith in God helped, too,” added Marcella.

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