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Nicolet’s ‘Grandpa’ leaves behind scholarships

I always give everything away, but I don’t give away more than I’ve got.

It started innocently enough.

Norman Van Hulle and his wife attended a play put on by their grandson Adam’s first-grade class at Nicolet Elementary School in Menasha. After the show, Norman noticed six new Apple computers lined up on a table. The teacher mentioned she didn’t know how to operate them, so his wife volunteered Norm.

Recently retired, he agreed to help first-graders use the computer for math practice three mornings a week. Before long, he added on the other two mornings to read with students.

As Adam moved up the grades, Norm volunteered for more teachers, continuing even after his grandson moved on to sixth grade at the middle school. His work earned him a Daniel P. Spalding Volunteer Educator award at the 2003 Celebrating Our Volunteers gala.

If you walked him through the school, you heard a constant chorus of “Hi, Grandpa.” Norm had more than 100 Facebook friends who were his former Nicolet “grandchildren.” Some of them have their own children now, whom Norm referred to as his Nicolet great grandchildren.

After 24 years as a volunteer teacher’s aide, Norm, at age 90, had longer tenure at Nicolet than anyone on the faculty, but he wanted to continue to offer aid to teachers even long after he was gone. He found the best way to do that was through the Community Foundation.

For the 10 years preceding his death Jan. 8, 2016, Norm had been awarding a $1,000 scholarship on his own to Menasha High School graduates studying to become teachers. Recently, he set up the Nicolet Grandpa Education Degree Scholarship within the Community Foundation.

“I really should have started (the fund) 10 years quicker,” Norm said. His scholarship is now an endowed fund, so his one gift to the Community Foundation, prudently invested, will be a permanent source of scholarships of at least $1,000.

“At 90 years old, you’ve got to have your t’s crossed and your i’s dotted, don’t you?” Norm said prophetically in a 2015 interview.

Norm didn’t care if his scholarship recipients were in the top of their class. He preferred to see that they worked with children in their jobs or volunteer work. Ideally, the future teacher would have been a student at Nicolet – one of Norm’s honorary grandchildren.