Details of services
A celebration of life is forthcoming later this summer.
Norman Riggs died peacefully at the University of Vermont Medical Center on Monday, May 22, 2023 shortly after his 80th birthday. His family grieves the loss but is grateful he is at peace after battling several maladies that impacted his quality of life.
Born in Topeka, KS in 1943, Norm grew up in Des Moines, Iowa and later settled in Vermont with his wife, Sandy, following their retirement. He was an accomplished athlete at Roosevelt High School and graduated with top honors from Drake University. Throughout his more than 30-year career as Community Development Specialist at Iowa State University, Norm was respected and beloved for his acumen in supporting Iowa’s small towns and agricultural and urban communities in adapting to socioeconomic change. Norm had a strong moral compass and spent time volunteering to help people who were homeless. He would often rise at 5 a.m. to hit the streets of Des Moines in a support van to feed and assist people in need, and in his retirement in Vermont he was a regular volunteer in a similar capacity. He was quiet and humble about his service, rarely mentioning it to others.
Norm was an outdoorsman and naturalist, as well as an esteemed gardener and backyard horticulturist. He holds the distinguished honor of being the first person to grow artichokes in Iowa after his university colleagues concluded it was futile and abandoned the project. He delighted in sharing his homemade preserves from his prized gooseberry and black currant patches and donating wagonfulls of excess garden bounty with neighbors and food banks. Norm spent his free time camping, trout fishing, and scouring the countryside for morel mushrooms. From his early childhood, he and his lifelong friend, Pete, developed a keen interest in butterflies, collecting and mounting prized specimens from all over North America, culminating in a highly valued private collection. His collection will be donated to Harvard’s Department of Entomology later this year.
“Stormin’ Norman” ran his first marathon with a very respectable time, crossing the finish line holding the second of two beers that he claimed were necessary to keep hydrated. He was a voracious reader, student of the English language, possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of sports and music trivia, and was a prankster extraordinaire. Often content to linger in the background but always affable, people gravitated to his intellect, offbeat humor, and gift for storytelling. His yen for adventure, combined with a healthy distrust of authority, was chronicled in his memoir Curbing Across America, which detailed his summer adventures bouncing from city to city in the Western states, painting house addresses on curbs for donations to his college fund, (often one step ahead of the municipal police). He regaled his kids and grandkids with tales of his service as a mess cook in the Army, instigating mischief at every opportunity. Handsomely grizzled and cantankerous with a soft underbelly, Norm lived life on his own terms. He had little regard for material possessions, social formality, or conservative politics. His greatest pleasure was sitting quietly outside in the yard, surveying his gardens and the natural world.
He saved his greatest affection for his family, including his dogs, and is survived by his wife Sandy Meuwissen Riggs, brother Art Riggs of Oakland, CA, son Chris Riggs (wife Elizabeth) of Ann Arbor, Michigan, daughter Katrina Riggs Webster (husband Dan) of Shelburne, VT, and his four beloved grandchildren: Hannah, Lucie, Hollis, and Colette.
Please honor him by stopping to pet a dog (the sillier looking the better) and quietly and without fanfare, help someone who is down on their luck. Donations in his honor will be gratefully received at the Charlotte Congregational Church, the Committee on Temporary Shelter in Des Moines, IA. or the Xerces Society.