Norma Lachelle


            Norma Becker Gonzo Lachelle

              June 30, 1923 - Sept. 15, 2022

People in Corvallis who knew Norma Lachelle generally remember her as a teacher of Art, Latin, and French at Highland View Junior High (now Linus Pauling), Western View, and Crescent Valley. Teacher evaluations from her various principals over the years may remind them of the kind of teacher she was.

From 1967: "Mrs. Lachelle is a classroom phenomenon. She is an experience that every child deserves to have." This evaluation goes on to note the "buzz of enthusiasm that pervades the atmosphere where her students are at work, even when the subject at hand is Latin."

From 1970: "It would be difficult to improve on what was said about Mrs. Lachelle three years ago. However, it is quite possible that that glowing evaluation understated the case."

From 1978: "Superlatives are easy to use when describing this highly professional lady. She has a magnetic personality and is the favorite of many students and faculty members alike."

Decades later, remembering Mrs. Lachelle on the occasion of her 90th birthday, similar remarks would be echoed by her former students: "She made a huge impression on me at Highland View."

"One of my favorite teachers all-time."

"I loved her as my junior high art teacher… actually the best art teacher I have ever had."

"I loved Mrs. Lachelle and think of her often. She was a super teacher and enriched our lives greatly."

"She truly influenced my life. I became a graphic designer because she saw talent in a shy girl that really needed what she offered: encouragement."

Norma Lachelle was originally from Brazil. She enjoyed a happy, middle-class upbringing in her hometown of Juiz de Fora (in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais). She received an excellent education at the local Methodist school where her favorite subject was history (thanks largely to her own favorite teacher). After graduation, she enrolled at the University of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro where she studied to become a teacher of English. Her years at the University coincided with an important historical event: the Second World War. Brazil joined the side of the Allies and Rio de Janeiro became a wartime port.

The presence of US destroyers, Liberty Ships, and servicemen gave Brazilian girls a chance to date Americans, practice their English, and dance the jitterbug. Jack Lachelle was from Salem, Oregon. After the war, he returned to Brazil and brought his future bride to the United States. Norma had always liked to draw, and while her husband studied Business and Radio Physics at Oregon State, she won a scholarship to attend the Museum Art School in Portland. Figure drawing, oil painting and portraiture became her specialties. She went on to the U of O where she received her bachelors in Fine Arts.

The couple had one child but the marriage didn't last. A single parent at a time when "single moms" were exceedingly rare, Norma was deeply grateful for her job at Highland View. And at a time when flying was almost exclusively limited to business, it was hard to travel on a teacher's salary. Nevertheless, Norma saved every penny to visit her family in Brazil, and whenever possible, she and her daughter would spend the summer in Juiz de Fora.

In 1973, in a move to further expand her horizons, Mrs. Lachelle accepted a job teaching art at the Tehran American School. At a time when there were 50,000 Americans working in Iran, many of them with their families, TAS had grown into one of the largest US-run schools anywhere overseas. Teaching American kids from all parts of the United States in a context as different as Iran, counted among Mrs. Lachelle's most rewarding experiences. She was looking forward to the 1979-1980 school year when the new Superintendent was planning to add Latin to the curriculum, but again, history intervened. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 forced the Americans out of Iran and the American School had to close. In a letter of recommendation following the closure, the former Superintendent (who would later become one of the Americans held captive during the Hostage Crisis) wrote:"Those many months of unrest in Iran brought some faculty members to the verge of hysteria. Mrs. Lachelle's calm and level-headedness in dealing with her students, parents and colleagues, her ability to bring logic and reason to bear under trying times, and her most pleasant and charming personality has earned my respect and admiration."

From Corvallis to Tehran and back to Corvallis, Norma Lachelle always insisted on the importance of Art. In her view, no school curriculum was complete without a healthy art program-and preferably, one that also included Latin. Much as she enjoyed teaching, however, her job prevented Norma from attending her own class reunions in Brazil. It was only after retirement, that she was finally able to take part in the annual get-togethers at her Methodist school. Reconnecting with old friends and former classmates kept her active and enjoying life. She visited her hometown for the last time in 2002.

Entering into her waning years, Norma's happiest hours were spent in the company of her most faithful friend: the piano. Since her youth, she had always had the ability to play almost any music by ear. American songs of the 1940s, Argentine tangos of the 1930s, and Brazilian music of any era figured among her favorites-in addition to the National Anthems of various countries and traditional hymns.

With regard to her passing, one of her young care-givers wrote: "I can imagine her dancing on the streets of gold … and playing the piano beautifully up in Heaven."

Norma Lachelle passed away on September 15, 2022, at the Corvallis Manor, with her daughter at her side. At the age of 99, her core values remained intact: her Christian-Methodist faith, and her devotion to her beloved hometown, Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Published by Albany Democrat-Herald on Oct. 23, 2022.