Norma Hartmann was hanging around a group of girls in the Kokomo High School band when Richard Hiteshew first noticed her.
“She wasn’t running around,” Richard said. “She was more sedate than the other girls who were flighty. She wasn’t all that bad lookin’ either,” he laughed.
Norma, 14, played the clarinet for Kokomo High School, and Richard, 16, played the trumpet in the Peru High School band. They were in Logansport at a four-city band festival that brought together the high school bands from Kokomo, Peru, Logansport and Marion.
The band participants were given autograph books, and Norma signed Richard’s before they parted ways and returned to their respective high schools.
Richard knew he wanted to get in touch with Norma, but he didn’t know how to do that – at first. The only information he had was her name she signed in his book, and he knew she went to Kokomo High School.
“In those days, the 22 miles between Kokomo and Peru was too long,” Richard said.
So he wrote her a letter and addressed it to Kokomo High School with her name on it, hoping she would receive it.
“I’d noticed her and kind of liked her, and wanted to know if she wanted to continue the friendship by writing,” Richard said. “I’d figure they’d probably deliver it to her.”
They did. Norma’s father was a teacher at Kokomo High School, so they stuck the letter in his mailbox, and he gave it to her.
“I was kind of surprised,” Norma said. “I had the feeling I wanted to answer it.”
They started to become pen pals. Every week they would write to each other.
“I guess I was too shy to come over and have a date or anything,” Richard said. “I was a country boy and was kind of bashful.”
He went on to graduate high school and then international business college in Fort Wayne, and Norma also went on to graduate high school. They wrote letters to each other the entire time.
The letters didn’t start out lovey-dovey, but according to Richard, as time went on they got a little bit “tinged” that way.
“You feel like you really know a person by then,” Norma said.
It was four years of letter-writing with three-cent stamps, back and forth, before they had their first date.
“I felt like I wanted to continue the friendship and see what it led to,” Richard said.
Richard borrowed a car and drove 22 miles to Norma’s home where they sat outside and talked. Richard also played badminton for the first time.
“She beat the heck out of me,” he laughed.
Even though they were both nervous, they wanted to see each other again.
Richard decided to join the Navy so he wouldn’t get drafted into the Army for World War II and chose to begin his naval career at Grissom for two reasons:
Firstly, he wanted to be near home so he could help his father on the farm, and secondly, it would be close to Norma.
Norma began training at St. Joseph Hospital in Kokomo to become a nurse, and was working 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shifts.
With their busy schedules, they did the best they could to see each other.
While Norma was training, she and other student nurses lived in a house across town and the nuns who were in charge gave them a curfew. They had to be back in the nurse house by 8:30 p.m.
A lot of nights at 7 p.m., Richard would be waiting for Norma in the hospital’s reception area, and they would walk together to the nurse house. By the time it took them to walk across town, it was almost always 8:30 p.m.
“Our dates were walking dates,” Norma said.
“You can learn a lot about a person by walking and talking,” Richard said.
They’d discuss their families and their future. They even shared their first kiss on one of those walks.
Norma was day dreaming so much about the kiss that she didn’t even notice that she bypassed the student nurses floor of the house, and was clear up on the third floor where the nuns stayed.
“I was just going up the stairs and I kept on going,” she laughed.
They went on their walking dates for about a year before Richard suddenly got orders saying he was being transferred to Norfolk to work at a Naval Air Command Center.
There was no way for him to let Norma know. He tried stopping by the hospital, but the nuns wouldn’t let him see her, so he left her a note telling her goodbye and where he was going.
“It wasn’t fun,” Richard said. “I was unhappy of course, but we just went on writing letters.”
Richard was on leave from Norfolk when he bought a ring at a Peru jewelry store and proposed to Norma.
“It just kept on growing on me that I wanted to propose,” he said. “I just felt comfortable with her. It’s just something that you know. You can’t explain it.”
Norma didn’t hesitate to take the ring and say yes to the proposal.
“She needles me sometimes because I didn’t ask her to marry me, I asked her to wear the ring,” Richard laughed.
The next day, when Norma showed her ring to her parents, there weren’t as many happy feelings.
Her father had a two-hour discussion where he told her he wanted her to give the ring back. He said Norma didn’t know Richard well enough, and he didn’t belong to their church.
“I think he belonged to the era where you had to get the father’s permission,” Richard said. “We skipped that deal.”
Norma wasn’t sure how her parents would respond, but she was surprised at her father’s strict reaction.
“It upset me,” Norma said. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t intend to give it back.’ I was not used to defying him, but my mind was made up.”
Richard went back to Norfolk and was transferred to California, then to Pearl Harbor aboard a ship before returning to Indiana again at the end of the war in 1945.
Norma and Richard were married on Dec. 9, 1945 at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Kokomo when Richard was 23 and Norma was 21.
After they were married, Richard had to return to California to go back to the ship. Norma didn’t go with him at first because there was no place to live.
Three weeks later, she arrived in California and managed to find a small trailer that the couple lived in for a few months before they moved back to Fort Wayne and Richard joined the Navy Reserve.
They transferred the Hiteshews again to Michigan City, and while they were there, the Navy disbanded Richard’s program.
He made the decision to join the regular Navy again and the couple, which was now a family, moved once more, to California.
“By that time we had four kids and a dog, and we drove to San Diego,” Norma said. “We didn’t know where we would stay or live or be. It was a great adventure.”
After discussion and agreement between the couple, Richard went on a naval ship and was gone for nine months.
“We were broken up about it,” Richard said. “She had to take over everything in the family. You gotta have a strong spouse to do that.”
It was tough for Norma too.
“After I saw him leave on the ship, I went to the bedroom and I cried,” Norma said. “Then I thought, ‘I can’t be like this. I have to take care of the kids.’ I learned to live with it.”
Norma traveled around a bit while Richard was gone.
“When we moved there, the only places I knew how to get to were the church and the commissary,” she said. “By the time he came back, I’d been to Disneyland and down to Mexico.”
Richard sailed to Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia during his nine month required tour of sea duty.
“When I came back, yeah, I was excited,” he said.
He was sent to work on Treasure Island, and then had orders to move to South Korea for Navy intelligence reasons.
Norma stayed in California with her youngest kids and got a job at a nursing home.
When Richard got leave for a month he proposed an idea to Norma.
“I jokingly said, ‘Why don’t you come over here,’ and by golly she did,” he said.
They met in Japan and traveled for three weeks. They got to see the World’s Fair in Osaka.
Once he was back in California, he was sent one last time overseas to Senegal in 1976.
This time, Norma went with him. They lived in Senegal for three years and liked living there. They said it was a fun and interesting experience.
The Hiteshews came back to the United States and lived in Maryland, where Richard was stationed, for 17 years until he retired.
They moved to Kokomo in 1982.
Whenever they got married, they never thought they’d travel so much.
“We’ve had a great life,” Norma said.
“I don’t regret one minute of it,” Richard said. “We’ve had a lot of laughter and we’ve had a lot of problems.”
The Hiteshews lost two of their five children. It was a struggle for them, but they leaned on each other and managed to look toward the positive things in their lives.
“I still consider [Norma] the main part of my life,” Richard said.
The Hiteshews agree it is important for couples to discuss things before making a decision, and to make sure you know the person you’re marrying.
“Don’t be in too big of a hurry,” Norma said. “You don’t have to write letters for four years, but be sure you know the person well.”
After 67 years of marriage, the Hiteshews say they know what the other is thinking, and are a lot more considerate of each other.
“I’m ready to go for 67 more years,” Norma said. “And with the same man.”