A beauty queen, cheerleader, and class president goes countercultural

Norma Wardle

Norma Wardle 1953 –

Born into a large Irish-Catholic family near Pittsburgh, Norma won a popularity contest as a child, and then struggled for years with an unexpected aftereffect: the need to maintain her image at all costs. By eleventh grade, she was a beauty queen, class president, and head of the cheerleading squad. She dated the quarterback of the football team and the captain of the basketball team: “I didn’t follow the trends at my school; I set them.” The problem was, it all cost money – money she didn’t have: “We were a lower-middle-class family, so I had to work hard to keep up my image. In fact, I had two afterschool jobs. I could have shopped at bargain stores but wouldn’t. They lacked class. Instead, I went to the high-end department stores. I also shoplifted.”

At college, Norma reveled in the new freedoms of the early 1970s: “You could let your hair go and forget about makeup. I went to hash parties. I embraced the whole counterculture thing.” What seemed like freedom wasn’t, however: “You had to go to the right concerts, and you still had to wear the right things: T-shirts with sequins, hoop earrings, and bell bottoms. Sure, we protested the war and talked about peace and love. But a lot of it was still driven and steered by commercialism.”

Fast forward a few years, and Norma had joined the Jesus People, a loose network of Christian fellowships and communes then at its height. One weekend she visited the Bruderhof: 

Culturally, it was completely foreign to me, but these people looked past my appearance. They wanted to know what I was thinking about, and they listened. I never thought I’d join, but something kept drawing me. Before, money and clothes defined me. I had lived for myself. These people were living together as brothers and sisters, for one another, trying to build up a truly new society. That goal inspired me so deeply, nothing else mattered anymore. At the community, I found something no amount of money can buy.

High school girls perfect their ball-handling skills.
High school girls perfect their ball-handling skills.

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