By Robert Lucke
Mike Norbury has an unusual job. He goes around and helps the elderly make their lives better. This includes the elderly and anyone over the age of 18 who is developmentally disabled. His is a three county area Hill, Blaine and Cascade with parts of Chouteau thrown in when things get busy.
Norbury explained what the job entails.
"We provide protective services to people over 60 or to people who have developmental problems," Norbury said. "It could be financial exploitation, physical or sexual abuse, or even self neglect. I try to determine whether there is anything to those things or not. I have found people in pretty filthy conditions, and sometimes in extreme situations, we even petition the court for guardianship. If at all possible, we will try to involve the families in the lives of those people, but sometimes it is the families that are doing the exploiting. That does happen."
Norbury, a Butte native, did his undergraduate work at the University of Montana and graduate work in San Francisco. After working in California for 10 years, he returned to Montana to work in adult protective services where he is yet.
"I feel fortunate to have found this job," Norbury said. "There are about 32 adult protective service workers around the state now, and as the boomer generation gets older, I don't see the need for this getting any less."
Norbury sees from 15 to 17 people a month, most all referred by someone or some agency. His goal is to keep them in their homes, keep their independence, and remove risks of physical or mental injury.
That is when Norbury goes above and beyond the call of duty not once, mind you, but often. Consider the case of Alvin. Lori Henderson, Northern Montana Care Center director, takes up the story.
"When Mike arrived, he said he found 78-year-old Alvin living in a trailer in Havre and living in the filthy residence with no water, heat or toilet. Alvin weighed only 104 pounds at the time and had no known family. Mike immediately called an ambulance and quickly filed to become Alvin's court-appointed legal guardian. In that capacity, Mike was able to help Alvin with his personal and financial affairs."
Mike and Alvin visited often, and the social worker soon learned that Alvin had siblings he hadn't seen or spoken to in more than 40 years. Upon returning to the United States after the service, Alvin, who never married, said he worked jobs around the country and lost touch with his family.
"Initially, I didn't think he had any family," Mike reported.
In his best investigative fashion, Mike logged onto the Internet and began a search for anyone who might be related to Alvin. He located a phone number in Menahga, Minn. for Alvin's brother, Harold. When Mike called that number, he reached Harold's wife, Mavis. Harold had passed away, but Mavis told Mike that he had spent nearly 30 years trying to locate his brother, Alvin.
Mike's next call was to Grand Rapids, Minn. to Alvin's only living sibling from a family of nine. A stunned sister reported that she hadn't heard from Alvin since a letter he sent to her family in 1959.
Once the family contacts had been made, Mike went to work trying to get Alvin into a veteran's home in Minnesota, so he could finally be near the relatives he thought he'd lost for good. After about a year of living at the Northern Montana Care Center in Havre and being on the waiting list in Fergus Falls, Mike received a call telling them that a room was open for Alvin.
Mike and Alvin were on the train the next day, and the following day was the first time the family met face-to-face after more than 40 years.
Henderson added that Norbury is the legal guardian for several of the Northern Montana Care Center residents who have no one or who have been exploited by family.
Does Norbury ever get really down by the work he does for others?
"Sometimes I am disappointed in what I see in people and how the elderly are treated," Norbury said. "You know, I have a real soft spot in my heart for veterans. That and just simply doing the right thing for people. That just keeps me going."
Mike Norbury has a soft spot for way more than just veterans and that translates into very real help for folks in our community, who in many instances, have no one at all to turn to for help. Nice to know there is a Mike Norbury on the Hi-Line.