Norris Erickson was born to first generation Norwegian Lutherans on the family farm west of Mt. Vernon, March 25, 1925 – one of five children. In 1938 the Ericksons moved to a farm northeast of Vermillion. He graduated from University High School in 1943 and began studies at the University of South Dakota until being called into the U.S. Army in 1945.
After returning from serving his country in Frankfurt, Germany in 1947, he married his high school sweetheart, Cleo Jean Collar. He picked up where he left off at the University of South Dakota, but in 1949 used the G.I. Bill to enroll at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Norris earned his degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1951 and began his career for Standard Oil Company in Kansas City, MO (and spent a VERY cold winter building an oil refinery in Mandan, ND that still stands on the frozen tundra).
While he and Cleo were visiting his older brother in Los Angeles in 1957, he filled out a job application at Hughes Aircraft – interested in the budding aerospace industry. He was hired immediately and he and Cleo were off to sunny California. In the next few years, he designed the “T.O.W.” anti-tank missile system (still in use around the world) and the first lunar lander, Surveyor I, that preceded the Apollo astronauts to the moon. (A Surveyor I replica hangs in the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC today.)
But by 1964, Norris and Cleo’s two children had arrived and it was decided that South Dakota was a better place to raise kids than L.A. The family moved back to Vermillion where he became Associate Vice President of the University of South Dakota, in charge of all campus facilities (including construction of the Dakota Dome and the current law school). He retired in 1987.
Norris, like so many of his generation, was a child of the Great Depression. As a result, his hobbies were simple and practical. He liked woodworking and had a large woodworking shop in his home. When not remodeling and tending to his homes over the years, he made simple wooden gifts for family and friends. And he never got over his Depression-era belief that ice cubes were wasteful.
Norris passed away Dec. 2, 2013, at the Sanford Vermillion Care Center. He was preceded in death by his parents, Thorvald and Ellen Erickson; infant sister, Eleanor; brothers, Orwin and Harold Dean; and sister, Marlys (Sidney Haugum). He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Cleo; a son, Paul; a daughter, Susan (Romney Jones) and two grandchildren that he watched enter college with pride – Dominick and Claire Jones – and numerous nephews and nieces.
A prayer and remembrance service will be held Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Hansen Funeral Home in Vermillion. Funeral services were conducted at Trinity Lutheran Church in Vermillion at 10 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 5. Burial will be in BluffView Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that any memorials be directed to the Trinity Lutheran Church radio broadcasts – one of the programs he pioneered as president of the congregation in the 1970s.
Norris’ family would like to extend a special word of thanks to the dedicated and exceptionally kind nurses, certified nursing assistants, dining hall workers and custodians of the Sanford Vermillion Care Center who watched over Norris day and night the last years of his life. He spoke fondly of them (except on bath day) and they embraced him and indulged his belief near the end that chocolate was a food group. hansenfuneralhome.com.