Small in Stature, Big on Power
Norma Hayman, OLV - American Cancer Society's oldest living volunteer, urges the next generation to finish the fight
Middletown, NJ (05/08/2013) Before the American Cancer Society’s research program, before the Surgeon General’s report on smoking, before mammograms, before the first Hope Lodge was built – stood a tiny powerhouse from New Jersey named Norma Hayman. A little lady with plenty of personality, the 94-year old embraces the title of oldest living volunteer.
Norma first got involved in 1945 when a family friend and physician invited her help out for two weeks in starting an American Cancer Society chapter in Paterson, NJ. Those two weeks led to a lifetime of rewarding work. This model of partnership – the medical community partnering with lay and business leaders who raised funds – sparked a movement that made the first-ever investment of $1 million to start the American Cancer Society’s cancer research program in 1946.
“In those days, NOBODY ever said the word “cancer,” Norma explained. “If you or a family member were unfortunate enough to have it, we used to say they had the ‘big C.’ I think our biggest contribution was creating awareness and then pushing for early detection. Early detection has changed everything.”
In the early days, the young interior designer welcomed the opportunity to get to together with friends and pay $1.45 to play in card parties. “Always with a raffle. The raffles were our big moneymaker,” said Norma. Over seven decades, the energetic Red Bank resident has contributed to nearly every facet of the organization – fundraising, advocating for laws to protect public health, educating schoolchildren about smoking, driving patients to treatments, designing a room for survivor meetings, and participating in Relay For Life.
She rose through the ranks of volunteer leadership and served as president of the Society’s New Jersey division in the early 80s. Active at the national level, she fondly remembers that there was a wooden crate with her name on it beneath the podium so that she could step up and be seen by the audience. Surrounded by physicians and lawyers with a string of letters after their names, a fellow volunteer suggested that she start listing O.L.V. after her name – “oldest living volunteer. “ The name stuck.
Norma is a 4’9” quick-witted mother of three, grandmother of seven, and now a two-time great grandmother. She also has a “boyfriend” she calls the smartest person she knows. Known for her humor, flair, and stylish socks, she is passionate about passing on one tradition. Norma hopes to share the value of volunteerism with the next generation.
“When you volunteer, you meet people outside of your profession,” Norma explained, “I worked with the best people – good people – the nicest people. Working for a great cause brought us together. And along the way, we had a lot of fun.”
But the American Cancer Society’s mission was always first and foremost, and Norma lost good friends and family members to cancer along the way. With ease, Norma recalls some of the organization’s greatest accomplishments, including leading the way to drive down smoking rates 50 percent since the 1960s, completing several Cancer Prevention Studies, and convening the largest-ever contingent of cancer survivors and volunteers on the National Mall in 2006 for Celebration on the Hill. The landmark event involved tens of thousands of volunteers asking legislators to make cancer a national priority. She is proud to live in a state with smokefree workplaces and prouder of American Cancer Society-funded research breakthroughs that have made it possible for 2 out of 3 people with cancer to survive.
As the American Cancer Society marks its 100th birthday, Norma is optimistic and very determined about the future.
“I want what everyone wants – the end of the disease….a world without cancer,” said Norma, “We’ve made so much progress. But let’s finish what we started.”
For more information on how to get involved with the American Cancer Society, go to cancer.org/fight or call 800.227.2345.
About the American Cancer Society
The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion with nearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering from cancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventing cancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being there for them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures through investment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallying lawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communities worldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmental investor in cancer research, contributing more than $3.4 billion, we turn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than 11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn more about us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit cancer.org.