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Say it isn't so, Norm

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Stacy Peterson referred to Norm Kelly as "one of Peoria's treasures" the other night. I couldn't agree more.

Peterson, reference assistant for public programming and events for the Peoria Public Library, was introducing Norm before he spoke to nearly 170 people crammed into a meeting room at the library's new North Branch. It was the third of a scheduled four talks Norm is giving about Peoria's bawdy history.

I'm not going to review the talk other than to say Norm held the audience's attention with his witticism, his sometimes salty language, his soothing voice and his intense knowledge of his subject, a knowledge derived of research the retired private investigator has performed through the years. That research has led to many novels, non-fiction books and hundreds of articles and blogspots.

Norm KellyNorm is not Peoria's only historian; there are several. But he is perhaps the best for talking about the seedy side of the city — the crime, the gambling, the prostitution and what-not. He has made a second career of studying and writing about that side and has written several novels based on some of those crimes. He isn't afraid to debunk some of the more popular theories about local history, nor does one get the impression he is afraid to exaggerate just a touch if it makes a story better (though you could probably never get him to admit it).

Of course, that could just be from the twinkle he gets in his eyes and the sly grin on his face when he tells about some of the naughtier aspects of Peoria history, a look that tells his listener that he enjoys telling a good story.

Readers of our magazine and this website are aware we have made Norm Kelly one of our own treasures. He was the first "Artist in Residence" in The Peorian magazine and we published on our website his two most recent novels, "Genesis: The Park Murders" and "False Face." (You can still read them on our site at www.thepeorian.com) He also has become on of our biggest fans and has turned many of his friends on to The Peorian, for which we are grateful.

But I wouldn't be writing about Norm today and agreeing with Stacy Peterson's assessment of him if I didn't believe it. And I wouldn't be hoping Norm keeps going as long as he can.

The last few times I spoke with him he told me this series of talks at the library, with the fourth and last installment scheduled for Monday, April 9, would be his "swan song," his final such series. He'd previously told me "False Face" was his final novel.

I can't blame him for wanting to be retired. He's 80 and he's a pretty good golfer. I'd like to be retired and I'm not quite 54 and I'm a lousy golfer.

But Norm is unique in the way he can tell a story. He can draw a crowd merely at the mention of his name, particularly from those who have heard him speak in the past and know how entertaining he can be. There aren't many things about Peoria history you could ask that he won't know something about it, especially the seedy side. (Let's face it; all of us love to hear about the seedy side, right?)

I watched his audience pretty closely the other night and could tell they were enjoying it despite feeling cramped, including those left standing. The hour-plus went by quickly. The applause at the end was heartfelt, not obligatory.

The beaming smile from Norm Kelly showed how much he enjoyed it. And it told me that whether he gives any more formal talks or writes any more books we'll always be able to count on him for a good story now and then.

In the short time I've known him I've learned he is indeed one of a kind. Aren't all treasures?

Thanks Norm.

Paul Gordon is editor of The Peorian. He can be reached at 692-7880 or editor@thepeorian.com

 

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).