Norma died on Dec. 29, 2017, having been diagnosed with a brain tumor in August.
“Waitress Extraordinaire” was the title that most people gave to Norma DeLange because of her career as the friendliest of waitresses in the many restaurants she worked in a career spanning more than 40 years, from Vince’s Italian Restaurant in West Sacramento, California, to three of San Jose’s most famous bistros, Farrell’s, Manny’s Cellar and Bini’s; where she made hundreds of people feel welcome with her imperturbable optimism and her file of jokes. She retired in 1993 without fanfare to care for her ailing Mother.
Norma Kay Thompson was born in Glasgow, Montana, on July 20, 1937 on her own Mother’s 25th birthday. The family moved to Whitefish, Montana, shortly after her birth where she spent her childhood.
When she was just 13 years old, she fancied that she had fallen in love with an older boy of 18, Ralph DeLange, whom she had met at a “teen” dance. Never mind the age difference or the fact that he already had a steady girlfriend, she was smitten. She was convinced it was fate and confided in her friends that she was someday going to marry him. He paid her no heed in the ensuing years when he went off to the US Navy in 1951 during the Korean War and her letters went unanswered. But for three-and-a-half years she maintained her determination and his name was always at the top of her notebooks. She dated, but all of her suitors soon learned that they were number two.
A chance meeting at another dance while he was home on his leave from the Navy brought them together again and, when her fishhook earring caught him in the nose, she apologized, but soon after he realized that he had indeed been “hooked” and he proposed.
Before graduating from high school, she married Ralph in 1955 and helped her husband obtain his college degree on the GI Bill at the University of Montana in 1959. It was during these years that she worked at various jobs while maintaining a home with two youngsters and assisting him in his homework, a role which he later recalled, “I think she got a better education than I did.”
The family moved to West Sacramento, California, in 1963 and to San Jose in 1966. Throughout those years the family vacationed at Lake Tahoe, a spot which Norma likened to her Rocky Mountain homeland and which she called “my favorite place next to Montana.”
After retirement in 1999, Norma and Ralph purchased “our little slice of Paradise”, a second home on the Swan River near Bigfork, Montana, and spent six months there every year.
Norma and Ralph had a love for travel and they counted themselves lucky to have visited 45 countries, 50 states and seven provinces of Canada during a lifetime of roaming the world. During these journeys they forged many enduring friendships with fellow travelers.
One of her great passions was her photo albums. It was a family joke that she could take the best of pictures only to discover, upon their development, that the people had no heads!
A Norma trademark was her legendary “homemade bread,” as well as her applesauce and huckleberry jam. At Christmastime she would bake over 100 loaves, four at a time, mixed and kneaded by hand, to give to customers at “Manny’s Cellar” and friends and neighbors.
Another tradition was “Family Night” Friday dinners. Her “7 bone roast” with beef gravy and all the trimmings was a major and constant hit. She likewise always hosted the holiday dinners with great aplomb. Family was her pride and joy.
Norma was preceded in death by her Father, Elmer John Thompson, her Mother, Margaret “Muggs” Janice (Hewitt) Thompson, her sister, Nancy Jean (Kramer) Ray, and her husband Ralph Edward DeLange. She is survived by three daughters, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren; Denise Earlene DeLange and husband George Calvert, and their daughter, Leslie Calvert; Janice Lillian Barton, her daughter Michelle Luttrell, son-in-law Jake and grandson Robert, and son, Michael Barton; and Jeanette Louise DeLange-Ortiz and husband Vince, their daughter and son, Nicole Louise DeLange-Ortiz and Matti Joe DeLange-Ortiz, daughter-in-law, Nadia, granddaughter Everly and grandson Logan; as well as many nieces and nephews and friends.
She was the best wife, mom, grandma, great grandma, aunt and friend anyone could ever have.
Funeral arrangements have been taken care of by the Neptune Society and her ashes will be interred at Conrad Cemetery in Kalispell, Montana.