Cooking up something special
November 22, 2020
Muleshoe High School graduate Willard Norman is living proof - it's never too late to make your dream job happen.
Born in Dimmitt in 1957, Norman was the middle child of 11. He grew up in Muleshoe on a farm where his father worked.
"Living on a farm was great. It was good country livin,'" Norman said of his upbringing.
After high school, he was offered a rodeo scholarship for his bull-riding but declined, intending on becoming a Texas state trooper. But those plans soon changed.
"I went to Sul Ross State University in Alpine to enroll, and I see these guys in the auditorium in fancy uniforms, and I didn't know what they were at the time," Norman said. They were Marines.
He joined the Marine Corps, where he served 10 years. He met and married his wife during this time.
He said he attended a broadcast school while in the Marines with the intention of becoming a disc jockey, but that career didn't pan out.
So Norman spent most of his adult life moving back and forth between Muleshoe and other Texas towns in search of a meaningful career. He worked for the oil industry, a production plant, Coca-Cola, a grocery store, a city water department and a nursing home.
At the nursing home, he started as a nursing aide, then he became a cafeteria aide. And that reminded him of a lifelong passion.
"I started cooking when I was a little kid," he said.
"I cooked at family reunions, funerals. I've always been fascinated with food and barbecue grills. I used to watch my mom cook, my aunts, my grandmother. I used to spend the night at my Latino friends' and my white friends' houses, and I used to watch their mothers cook, so I learned to cook food from different cultures."
Barbecuing is a personal favorite.
"(T)here is just something about cooking with barbecue grills," Norman said. "It's exciting, the way the meat turns out, the perfection of it. It's completely different than cooking in a skillet."
Now his hobby is becoming his career. In 2018, at 60 years old, Norman began attending culinary school at Levelland's South Plains College with the youngest of his six children, Tyrel.
"It's wonderful. God is showin' out. God is moving me to do things that I have prayed for for years. I have been very blessed," Norman said. "My wife has been supportive, my kids, my grandkids."
Willard and Tyrel are finishing their second-to-last semester in culinary school and are operating their own food truck around Lubbock with hopes of finding a building they can turn into a restaurant.
"Having my dad in class is a blessing," Tyrel Norman said.
"I grew up with him always cooking in the kitchen, and I was always outside helping him with the barbecue pit. And in the class, it's the same thing, just at a higher level. When we walk into school, we say we are going to do it to better our business, to get us to the point of owning a fleet of food trucks."
Willard Norman said he hopes to inspire others.
"I hope my story will inspire someone else, no matter what age they are or walk of life they are, to go out and fulfill their dreams. Because it's never too late," he said.
"I figure a lot of black men in this country are selling themselves short, because they think they can't do something because of the color of their skin. Put God in your life and go for it and surround yourself with positive people, regardless of race, creed, or color. You have no excuse of what you can't do in this world, and I hear a lot of excuses out here. I think Michael Jackson said it best: the man in the mirror is the one who has to make a change. Those are true words."