By Paul Rhodes
When Sedgwick County commissioner Tim Norton was honored recently as Humanitarian of the Year by the Sweet Emergency Fund, it was a night of mixed emotions and ironic twists.
Norton, who many call “Mr. Haysville” and recently was re-elected to his seat on the Sedgwick County Commission, said he was “humbled and honored” with the recognition. When brought to the stage for the night’s moment of honor, Norton was really humbled.
“Turn around and don’t look,” master of ceremonies Larry Hatteberg told Norton. When Hatteberg gave Norton the green light to face the audience, everyone in attendance had donned a long white beard mimicking the guest of honor.
Norton took it in stride, grinning from ear to ear, and giving the audience – filled with family, friends and long-time associates – a thumbs up.
And, Norton took it in stride that his recognition for helping Haysville recover from a devastating tornado came just a day after Moore, Okla., was hit by a horrific tornado.
Prior to being elected to the Sedgwick County Commission, Norton served on the Haysville City Council, and as mayor of Haysville. It was during that tenure that the Haysville tornado caused Tim Norton to make a major change in his life.
In an effort to pour his time and energy into community recovery, Norton left his management position with Target to focus on his city and its rebuilding efforts. That task earned Norton a spot on “Hatteberg’s People,” and the video was played during the recognition ceremony.
Dr. Donna Sweet, for whom the award is named, called Norton “an extraordinary gentleman.”
“Thank you for all you do for Wichita and our surrounding communities,” Dr. Sweet said in the ceremony’s opening remarks.
This was the ninth year for the Humanitarian of the Year Award. The event honoring Norton, “One Man, One Community, One Beard,” also served as a benefit for the Sweet Emergency Fund, which was established in the early 1990s to assist HIV/AIDS patients with their health care needs when other resources were not available. Dr. Sweet established the Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2005.
“I thank my lucky stars every day for a family that has supported me,” said Norton. “I learned a lot of lessons from the tornado, and saw what was important in our community.
“I told (my wife) Susan that I didn’t think I could go back to Target. This is too important.”
Norton said his father had urged him to lead a life of significance, not a life of success. An avid reader, Norton quoted some of his most influential authors, and apologized for sometimes stealing their words.
“But I think it’s too late to run me out of office for plagiarism,” he said .
Norton has been involved with numerous community service efforts, in addition to his service as a public official. Groups with which he has been involved include the National Public Health Leadership Institute, the Child Advocacy Center, Eastside Rotary Club Wichita Wagonmasters, Haysville Optimist Club (former president), Visioneering Wichita, United Way, Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Club of South Central Kansas, Exploration Place, and the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation.
Norton and his wife, Dr. Susan Parkinson Norton, have five children and six grandchildren. They live in Haysville.
Since 1998, Norton has sponsored and funded more than 40 $1,000 scholarships for high school seniors from West, South, Clearwater and Campus high schools. A Newman University graduate, Norton retired from his full-time career as a Target store manager to dedicate his efforts to cleanup and recovery following the major tornado that hit Haysville.
He was given the Hometown Hero Award that year, and was honored with the Haysville Community Spirit Award in 2007.
And at the end of the award ceremony, when things were reaching a relative somber plateau, Norton did what he often does best: he diffused the situation.
“Maybe we should put the beards back on,” he said, drawing a standing ovation from the audience.
Master of ceremonies Larry Hatteberg, left, helps recognize Humanitarian of the Year Tim Norton during a recent ceremony in downtown Wichita. Norton is a Sedgwick County commissioner and former mayor of Haysville.