In 1929, Norma Brink was born in the Westside Lithuanian community of Grand Rapids, MI. She had two younger sisters whom she babysat quite often as her mother worked outside of the home. After graduating high school, Norma continued her education first at Grand Rapids Junior College (now Grand Rapids Community College) and then Western Michigan University (WMU). Although she started as a music major, she ended with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. After graduating from WMU in 1949, Norma taught fourth grade at Lafayette Elementary School (later renamed Vandenberg Elementary School).
From 1970 – 1985 Norma was appointed by Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Phil Runkel as the principal of Iroquois Middle School. From 1982 to 1985 Runkel assigned her as supervisor of art and music for the entire school district.
From 1985 to 1995 Norma was adjunct faculty at Davenport University. She taught communication skills, English, and math. She also taught classes and workshops at the Civic Theater and Davenport Entrepreneurial Center. In addition, she continued her freelance talent work, including voice over work in videos for the Amway Corp. and ad work on TV and in print. From the time Norma came back to Grand Rapids in 1949, she was consistently in local theater.
In 1951, she and her husband started Community Circle Theater. She also performed in summer stock in Manistee, Augusta, and Saugatuck. She played over 100 leading roles, performed on community and professional stages, and acted in industrial films and TV as well as radio commercials. She has conducted numerous workshops and seminars in theatre and communication skills for students of all ages. But her passion has gone far beyond her fine acting. She has worked in every capacity, including usher and board member of Civic and Circle Theatres. In fact, it was her enthusiasm and dedication to the theatre, which enabled a fledgling Circle Theatre to grow and to entertain.
She shared her passion with her students who learned to love the theatre from her. She has been recognized for her contributions to the arts with the James Mitchell Award for service to the theatre, 1970; Greater Grand Rapids Arts Council Award, 1985; the first Norma S. Brink award, Circle Theatre, 1986; and the Legacy Award, Women’s History Council, 1997.
“Theatre is my passion, my balance in life,” Norma said with fervor. “Theatre is important because it’s something we can enjoy all our lives as a spectator or as a participant. It gives us a great appreciation for different levels of our society, of different cultures. It makes us more interesting. It gives us a spark, an energy, sometimes even a recognition within ourselves unlike any other art. If you have a creative force of any kind in your life, use it.”
This biography was adapted from an oral history interview with Norma Brink. Learn more about oral histories here.
A biography of Norma Brink can also be found in the Fall 2004 GGRWHC Newsletter.
“Norma Brink.” Legacy, 2004. https://obits.mlive.com/us/obituaries/grandrapids/name/norma-brink-obituary?id=14678643.