In Memoriam: Dr. Dennis A. Norlin

Dr. Dennis A. Norlin

The American Theological Library Association (ATLA) remembers the life of Dr. Dennis A. Norlin, retired ATLA Executive Director. Dennis passed away on Friday June 7, 2013, after a serious illness.

Please join us in offering his family and friends our sincerest condolences during this sad time.

Dennis will be remembered and missed as a colleague and friend, and we are grateful for his fifteen years of loyal service to ATLA.

A memorial service for Dennis was held at Feast of Victory Lutheran Church, Acme (Mich.), on Saturday, June 29, 2013, at 7 p.m.  Memorial gifts may be sent to Advent Lutheran Church, Dennis Norlin Memorial, P.O. Box 249, Lake Ann, MI 49650.

Please read more about Dennis at this link.

There will be a social gathering in Chicago to honor and remember Dennis in September, and members of the Norlin family will be present. You are cordially invited to attend.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013
5 p.m. – 7 p.m. with a brief program at 6 p.m.

Quarles & Brady LLP
300 North LaSalle Street, Suite 4000, Chicago, Illinois 60654

RSVPs are kindly requested to be sent to Rick Rybak ( no later than August 29th. Due to security in the building, advance registration is required. Feel free to share with friends and colleagues.

ATLA members and colleagues are invited to share their thoughts and memories to be compiled by ATLA staff for Dr. Norlin’s family and friends. To add your own reflections about Dennis, please provide a comment in the “Leave a Reply” section below.  If you would like to share photos or personal memories, please feel free to e-mail

If you would like to speak with someone at ATLA headquarters, please contact Margot Lyon, or 312-775-9433.

In Memoriam: Dr. Dennis A. Norlin

45 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Dr. Dennis A. Norlin

  1. William Badke says:

    I am so saddened to hear of Dennis’ passing. His devotion to ATLA was not just a matter of administration but of deeply held mission. We could not have hoped for a more energetic and caring leader during ATLA’s development into what it is today. As a board member for three years, I had expected to become somewhat disillusioned as I got to know the inner workings of the organization, but my admiration for ATLA just grew and grew as I saw firsthand how Dennis was leading its transformation. He will be deeply missed.

  2. Cameron J. Campbell says:

    When I heard the news that Dennis had died, two things came to mind. First I remember the summer of 2000 when I interviewed at ATLA. What struck me at the time was his welcoming attitude–genuine warmth and abundant humor. Those qualities were in evidence many times over the years that I worked with him. Second was his vision for ATLA to move firmly from a print-based world into the electronic/digital age. That process was long, certainly had its ups and downs, but always at the heart of it was Dennis’ real concern for ATLA’s good. He will be memorialized in many ways by many people, but his warmth, humor, and vision remain as my best memories of him. May he rest at peace in light.
    Cameron J. Campbell

  3. Margot Lyon says:

    With a heavy heart, I remember Dennis as a patient, kind, and compassionate individual. He fostered a collegial and professional atmosphere at ATLA, always looking out for the individual. I’ve saved all of the personal notes he sent me over the years (birthday cards, thank you notes, notes of encouragement), and they are treasured. I will miss his humor, his patience, his kindness and his wisdom. I’m holding his family and friends in the light. Margot J. Lyon

  4. So sad to lose people who have made a difference in life. Dennis accomplished making ATLA a professional organization for theological librarians and gave us the tools we needed to build library collections for students of theology. He preserved the past and gave us a present and had visions of the future. Laughter was never far from his lips! We shall miss him but look forward to meeting him in eternity!

  5. Carisse Berryhill says:

    To Dennis I will always be grateful for the opportunity to teach Theological Librarianship at Illinois. He worked with the Professional Development Committee by negotiating the arrangement with GSLIS to offer the course. At the ATLA conference in 2004, he persuaded me to teach it, beginning in the fall of 2005. ATLA flew me up to meet with PDC, and then to go to Champaign-Urbana for training. The day we drove to the campus, Dennis drove. Precisely at lunchtime, there was a downpour and we got soaked. Dennis’s good spirits were not dampened. I’m glad to remember those happy hours.

  6. Cait Kokolus says:

    Just about all of us can cllaim an experience of Dennis’ good humor and welcoming spirit, and many can give tribute to his unique gifts of being Minister and Business Executive that furthered ATLA. For me, though, it was Dennis’ absolute committment to equality, that everybody counted or nobody counted, and the need to live that out both in his private and in his professional life that shines today through my sorrow at his passing. I am richer for knowing him,

  7. Ric Hudgens says:

    I was very saddened to hear of Dennis death. My condolences to Sandra and the family.

    I worked for ATLA from 1989-2000. I was part of the search committee that brought Dennis to ATLA. I remember in the interview process we asked him what he would want to accomplish as Executive Director and he responded “I want to set the tone”. I liked that answer and setting the tone was what he did. It was an optimistic and forward looking tone that moved us from a difficult situation to a new beginning as an association. My leaving ATLA in 2000 to enter into parish ministry was disappointing to Dennis, but he was never anything less than fully supportive and we continued to encourage one another in the years that followed my departure. Upon his retirement I wrote him the following note, dated June 15, 2010:

    Dear Dennis,

    Well, it is difficult to say all that I would like to say as you retire from ATLA.

    You did indeed have a great team of people, but it would be remiss to ignore the enormous contribution that you made. You were the coach, and you were able to place us in positions where we could do our best. You were able to coordinate our efforts, and to lead us forward with vision and purpose. You were there to encourage and inspire when it got hard (and boy was it hard in those early days!). You modeled what it all meant.

    I hope that when you look back on your years at ATLA you feel justifiably proud of what you accomplished.

    Personally, you were a great mentor for me. I watched closely and learned more than I realized about organizational leadership. Managing the congregational renewal here at my church succeeded to a great degree because I had already seen an organization get renewed. I knew it could be done, and from watching you I had some idea of how to go about that.

    I always appreciated your personable leadership style, your professionalism, and clarity of thought.

    Bless you in retirement (the beginning of new opportunities).

    Well done!

  8. Jim Skypeck says:

    I have so many great memories of Dennis but I will always be grateful for his work on the Wabash Colloquium and his willingness to help me as I worked on and then chaired the Theological Reference Task Force. His good humor and kindness were such a blessing to me and to many of my colleagues. What a great loss!

  9. Susan Ebertz says:

    I remember the first time I met Dennis was at the ATLA meeting in Austin in 2005. Ann Hotta, Carrie Hackney, and I did a panel on Encouraging Diversity. Dennis attended the session and afterwards wanted to have lunch with us to talk more about the session. His concern and care for racial ethnic diversity within ATLA was a great encouragement to me. I owe my greater involvement in ATLA to Dennis. The inaugural diversity committee became very close because of the ways in which we were vulnerable to each other. Dennis shared in those sessions. I will miss him. Blessings to his family! I think especially about Dennis’ son who is a non-white carrying on the Norlin name. Dennis was proud of that fact.

  10. Bruce Eldevik says:

    Uppermost for me was Dennis’ humanity, his pastoral care for people, both ATLA staff and its members, and his ability to connect values and vision with people and programs. He was also a good storyteller, but often, in and through his humor in their telling, lay pointers to some larger truth as well. ATLA has been blest to have had 15 years of Dennis’ enthusiastic leadership and gentle presence.

  11. Christine Wenderoth says:

    Oh no, oh no, oh no! This was all I could think upon reading the email with the news of Dennis’ passing. He had worked so hard for so long and deserved a retirement of rest and grandchildren. From the moment I met Dennis [I can’t even remember when this was] I was struck by his passion, his vision, his heart, his intellect…and his ability to tell really rousing stories![I will always remember his stories about his dissertation and his commuter marriage years.] It was my privilege to work with Dennis while on the Board, and here in Chicago–he taught me much and expanded my sense of vocation. He was the heart of ATLA for so long. I will truly, truly miss him. Peace, Dennis.

  12. Dennis Norlin was an enthusiastic leader for ATLA during a transformational period of development as an association. But even more than an executive director, Dennis was a warm, energetic person who encouraged many in further developing our careers, ambitions, and ideas.
    Andrew Keck, President of the American Theological Library Association 2012/13

  13. Jenee Woodard says:

    I remember Dennis coming to my house to talk about ATLA and my work with The Text This Week. We ended up talking mostly about bringing as much independence to offspring with disabilities as possible. I will miss his wisdom and mentorship in these things as well as the opportunity he gave me to be part of the important work at ATLA. Peace, Dennis, and God’s peace to your family.

  14. Amy Limpitlaw says:

    Warmth, kindness, humility, humor…these are the words that come to mind when I think of Dennis. A genuine person, no pretensions, and he really cared about people. I remember him telling me about his passion for music and his hopes to spend more time pursuing this passion during his retirement. My thoughts are with his family.

  15. I had the distinct pleasure and honor of working with Dennis for over a decade at ATLA. He was my mentor in too many things to enumerate here, but what I treasured most was his valuable insight into people. Dennis had a full appreciation of the human condition that I have never encountered before. He possessed that rare and unique gift to value and respect the entire person, warts and all, with an understanding that it was all of one piece; and yet still push and encourage people to grow in new and challenging ways. He modeled for me the way in which people should interact and work together, in a way that I still strive to duplicate to this day.

    The world is truly a poorer place for his passing.

  16. Penelope Hall says:

    It was with great sadness that I learned that Dennis passed away this past weekend. He was a gracious man who had a big place in his heart for the work of theological libraries around the world, and as a result, was instrumental in bringing about a much closer collaboration between BETH and ATLA. His warm welcome to the representatives from Europe and other parts of the world at the annual conference was much appreciated. The thoughts and prayers from all his colleagues in BETH are with his family at this time. May he rest in peace.

  17. Marti Alt says:

    My personal association with Dennis began when his daughter Mia moved to our neighborhood in Columbus while she was associated with Ohio State. Although she was just there for a short time, from then on we had a special kinship as he kept me updated with his growing family and I to him with mine. As others have said, he was gracious and kind, but along with that was a wit, knowlege, wisdom, and grasp of the goals and direction of ATLA that helped keep the Association on keel through some choppy times. My life is richer for knowing him, as are the lives of many, many others. I miss him.

  18. I can only echo the comments about Dennis’ warmth and dedication. I had the privilege of working with him in one capacity or another for his entire tenure at ATLA. Through both success and failure, he unfailingly sought a constructive approach and an optimistic outlook. Dennis was always genuinely caring of the people he worked with, though he was often stubbornly determined to move ahead.

    One memory of Dennis that stands out demonstrates both that caring and determination. It happened during a January Board of Directors meeting a few years ago. Chicago was experiencing a bout of weather that was frigid even by Chicago standards. There was ice everywhere on the roads and sidewalks. David Stewart, who was then President, slipped and fell shortly after arriving in town and ended up with a cast on his leg and crutches. David soldiered on but he couldn’t walk the relatively short distance from ATLA headquarters to the hotel where we stayed. One evening after we adjourned, the weather was brutally bad. The wind chill was well below zero and even Chicago natives were abandoning the streets. Cabs whizzed by, utterly ignoring all attempts to attract their attention and David was prepared to set out on foot, crutches, cast, wind chill and all. But Dennis, swathed from head to toe in cold weather gear, would have none of it. After several failed attempts to hail a cab, he waited for the street to clear then stood in the road in front of oncoming traffic to force the next taxi to stop. I didn’t know whether to applaud or simply be terrified but Dennis got the job done. He usually did. Bless him.

    1. Dennis was a wonderful colleague who frequently brought the other library association directors together for lunches which resulted in several cooperative undertakings. He was a warm and funny individual who shared many good ideas with ATLA’s sister associations. He will be missed.

  19. Tami Luedtke says:

    I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Dennis. I will always remember his gracious generosity, genuine concern for individuals and for ATLA, and his ability to connect with people through stories and humor. My thoughts and condolences are with his family at this sad time.

  20. Karl Frantz says:

    Who knew upon his arrival in Evanston that Dennis Norlin, the pastor, librarian, and Alfred North Whitehead scholar from South Dakota – sporting a bow tie – had the foresight and wherewithal to lead ATLA in the various new directions it needed to go? Yet he did! And we are truly grateful for the leadership he provided to ATLA for 15 years. We will miss him both as colleague and as friend. And, we wish peace and consolation to his family.

    Upon Dennis’s retirement, I asked the ATLA staff to list the things that they most appreciated about his leadership. Below is that “top 10” list, which bears repeating now:

    10) His genuine concern for staff professional development at all levels — the staff benefited individually, and hopefully so has ATLA

    9) His commitment to both encourage and practice good communication within the office and within the association

    8) His confidence in the ability of the staff to perform their duties, which is an invaluable ingredient for both good work and good morale

    7) His infectious sense of humor, including his tendency to whistle when he was in a good mood

    6) His strong support during difficult times at ATLA, including 2 difficult office moves, countless less-than-smooth software installations and upgrades, hardware failures, production concerns, leaky roofs, power outages, unique building management, the ATLA conference bus-capades, and more…

    5) His recognition of the need for fun and celebration at the office, which carried forth in his recognition of numerous corporate milestones and his support for staff outings and the annual holiday party

    4) His ensuring that the work/life balance for the ATLA staff is good, as evidenced by his support of sane work hours and flex-time options that acknowledge varying, sometimes difficult, family life situations

    3) His leadership role in developing ATLA’s products and services to members and others, and for shepherding ATLA’s profitable move from the paper(olithic) era into the electronic age

    2) His genuine concern for the whole well-being of the staff, including his acknowledgement of individual accomplishments, staff ATLA anniversaries, birthday cards and lunches, and his pastoral concern when staff encountered life’s difficult crossroads

    1) His walk-the-walk leadership in creating an office culture that encourages collegiality, hospitality, generosity, ethical behavior, fairness, sanity, civility, trust, and integrity

  21. Tony Amodeo says:

    This is very sad news, indeed. Dennis was one of a kind, and kindness was one of his many defining virtues.

    At the formative meeting to establish a new Interest Group on preservation (now CPAL) at the Ottawa conference, the room was filling up fast. I was anxiously working to get set up, and who do I see but Dennis, coming in and out, over and over, carrying in extra folding chairs to accommodate the crowd. His is a Servant Leadership model for us all.

    May the Lord bless and keep him.

    Tony Amodeo

  22. Mary Dewyer says:

    Dennis contracted with our consulting firm, PeopleWorks on numerous occasions. Whenever I entered ATLA Dennis would leave his office and greet me with a big warm smile. He always made me feel welcome and appreciated by his graciousness, so rare in the workplace.
    Dennis cared deeply for his staff and his environment. He set a standard of the highest professionalism at ATLA, and modeled a norm that stands today. I feel honored to have known him.

  23. Bill Hook says:

    I do not know how to begin to express the loss I feel with Dennis’ passing. He certainly deserved a long and happy retirement with his family, it is tragic that he had such a short time after his retirement. I had the privilege of working closely with Dennis while on the Board, and in particular in the year I served as Board President. Of his many accomplishments at ATLA, many already articulated here and many not yet, the one that strikes me first was his early decision to open negotiations with EBSCO and the other vendors to distribute the Religion database. Prior to Dennis’ selection as Executive Director, his predecessor Al Hurd had judged that the market for ATLA’s RDB product was saturated, and his suspicion of deals with third party vendors was deep. Dennis was willing to reopen that avenue, still protecting the ATLA brand, but that was the foundation of a decade of prosperity and expansion for ATLA products beyond theological libraries.

    More than my enjoyment of working with Dennis as a colleague, I treasure the friendship we developed over the years. Perhaps it was the way we met, or being two ethicists who wound up in theological libraries; but most likely it was the mutual sharing of our lives away from work. The joys and challenges of raising a child with special challenges cemented a bond between us that led to many many non-work related phone calls.

    As many have already said, Dennis was a truly caring individual;insightful and compassionate, passionate about ATLA and deeply committed to being a faithful person. Our lives are richer for his presence, and poorer with his passing.

  24. Beverly Thompson says:

    I had the honor of working with Dennis over 8 years. I am grateful that on that cold winter day in 2001, he called and offered me an opportunity to work with him at ATLA. I found Dennis to be a person who had a genuine concern for people. He had remarkable insight into the needs of all of staff. He acknowledged our accomplishments and birthdays with handwritten notes and always with gracious and appropriate messages that showed he cared. Dennis had a welcoming attitude and genuine warmth to all who came in contact with him.
    He will be missed.
    My condolences to his family.

  25. I count myself fortunate to have known Dennis over the past dozen or so years. He modeled for me how to be present in a group as a leader, colleague, and friend. I always found him to be a creative and reflective thinker with a pastor’s heart. His kindness of spirit was always evident in his work with the Wabash Center and the ATLA workshop groups. I will miss him and his smiling joy. May his family receive comfort, strength, and peace as they mourn and grieve.

    1. I have missed Dennis and his warm smile since he entered retirement. Dennis always treated me and my consulting collegaues with great respect and kindness. He will be greatly missed. I am honored to have known Dennis. My heartfelt sympathies are extended to his family and to the ATLA community for your loss.

  26. Though I grew up in Pittsburgh and am ordained Presbyterian, as the son of a native South Dakotan and with a (now-retired) Lutheran minister uncle, I immediately appreciated Dennis Norlin’s SD roots and Lutheran ordination. I also recall appreciating that he had three very different children, one adopted. Then I saw him turn around a very difficult sitation in which ATLA found itself. He unexpectedly was thrust into the position of Executive Director not long after becoming an ATLA employee! The rest is history. ATLA’s organizational ends, product development, staffing, vendor engagement, technological prowess, relations with other entities, sterling reputation, worldwide reach–it all moved forward. Perhaps most striking to me was the sense of being valued as an ATLA member. Dennis never overlooked the importance of ATLA’s members–both the individuals and the libraries. His leadership also witnessed the timely opening of new categories of membership. I deeply respected Dennis, but I also loved the care he showed me personally, from a visit to our campus to my arrivals in Chicago for Board meetings–to the time when I suddenly became ill at the end of a conference and had to delay our return home for a day or so. He is now with his Lord in unspeakable joy.

  27. Kathy Flint says:

    I am grieved by this sudden and unexpected news. I worked for ATLA during most of the 1990s, and it was Dennis who did two notable things for me that influenced my life in powerful ways and still resonate forward this day.

    First, in about 1997, he opened up a little “webmaster” position with the technology team, on what couldn’t have been much more than a hunch that I would do ok in that space. This was in the early days of consumer internet technologies, when everyone knew you needed a web site but no one knew much about how to pull that off. Dennis tossed the ball to me, and now 17 years later, I enjoy a rewarding IT career managing a team of sofware engineers doing complex, high-volume mission critical payment processing across over about 150 high-end servers for a major US bank. It is not an overstatement to say that my career opened up out of the opportunities that Dennis created for me.

    Second, more importantly, and the reason for my strong sense of loss this week, is my own work founding a nonprofit organization. At the time of my ATLA employ I allowed myself to stay oblivious to the high drama and politics of a nonprofit member organization. I did though, unbenownst to myself at the time, soak in the level-headed, collaborative, eminently respectful ways of Dennis Norlin. Dennis himself, out of his transparent and inclusive approach, made it possible for me to notice and learn from his leadership. Now I understand how profoundly skilled he was at organizational development. How I was looking forward to meeting up again with Dennis at some time to gather some more of his wisdom, suddenly relevant to me in ways I had not expected! I am thankful for the time I spent working side-by-side with Dennis and feel his influence to this day.

    My condolences to family, and all who loved Dennis. Many blessings.

  28. Lavonne Cohen says:

    I am saddened that this world no longer has Dennis in it, but am so grateful to have had the gift of knowing him. He earned the deep respect, trust, and admiration of colleagues (both ATLA staff and membership) because of his steady leadership, fairness, expertise, and business acumen. Dennis cared deeply about his staff and the integrity and quality of our products and services. His warmth and humor were so welcoming. He took great pride in our association, its mission, and its members. I miss seeing him in his signature bow ties and our chats about music (everything from Chucho Valdes to Emmylou Harris). I fondly remember his encouraging words regarding library school and my husband’s music writing career. My heart goes out to the Norlin family and all those who loved him. May Dennis be celebrated for his remarkable life, and enveloped by pure love.

  29. Leslie Engelson says:

    I was saddened to hear of the loss of Dennis knowing that the world is a little less warm and caring because of that loss. I first met Dennis at my first or second ATLA conference at a meal for Interest Group leaders. I didn’t know very many people in ATLA and, after picking up my box lunch, sat next to him in one of the few remaining empty chairs. He proceeded to engage me in a conversation that revealed the depth of his care for people and his servant heart. My next encounter with him was a few years later at another conference and another meal where I had the pleasure of meeting his wife. Once again, he was a gracious dinner companion. We came from different theological backgrounds and yet I sensed in Dennis an appreciation for the various facets of Christian worship and practice. I was once again struck with how he was able to develop instant rapport with someone he hardly knew as well as his ability to not let his position as Executive Director get in the way of connecting on a personal level with those around him. He was a gentle shepherd whose kindness is missed.

  30. My condolences to Dennis’ family. The world has truly lost a wonderful human being. I have learned so much from Dennis over the years, and I consider him to be my mentor. He is the reason why I started down a path that eventually led me to form a not-for-profit archives organization after working at ATLA for six years. It was Dennis’ suggestion that I present at the ATLA 20120 Annual Conference in Louisville, KY after having learned more about the archives work that I was doing outside of my regular ATLA duties with Lithuanian language archival materials in Chicago. One thing led to another, as well as another paper given at ATLA 2012 in Scottsdale, Arizona. In June of 2012, I resigned from my duties as Product Support Analyst at ATLA on my own accord to devote myself full-time to my archives work at the Lithuanian Archives Project (LAP). To add to that, I will also never forget how Dennis would sometimes bring his Subway sandwiches into the lunchroom and eat with the staff, talking and laughing with us, telling stories, or how he stopped by my office the day after I returned from Mumbai, India and asked me how I was, because I was in Mumbai during the terrorist attack in November 2008. Every conversation I ever had with him, I felt like it was easy for him to relate to others, and that he truly did care. He led by example, and was an exceptional mentor. I learned a lot from observing him, and was lucky enough to see his management style in action and how effective it was. May he rest in peace.

  31. Anja Emmerich says:

    I am so sad to hear that Dennis Norlin passed away. I remember him as an open-minded, kind person with a fine homour. It was always a pleasure to talk with him. He filled the vision of a global theological librarianship with life.
    In the name of the German association of Protestant libraries Verband kirchlich-wissenschaftlicher Bibliotheken (VkwB) I would like to send our condolences to his wife, family and all those who love and miss him.

  32. It was a pleasure to work with Dennis as we sought to strengthen and support the relationship between ATS and
    ATLA. He was gracious in all ways, thoughtful and skilled as an organizational leader, and cared deeply about theological education. He worked well, and it is sad that he did not have the time and health needed to retire.well. He was faithful in every endeavor that we shared. Blessings to his family.

  33. Margot Lyon says:

    Memorial given for Dennis at ATLA 2013 Conference, by Margot Lyon

    Shortly after I joined ATLA headquarters nine years ago, from time to time I started to hear faint whistling down the hall—[whistle amazing grace] I later realized that it was Dennis, who had a habit of quietly whistling in his office when he was happy. It was comforting for me to hear, since Amazing Grace was a favorite song of my own grandmother.
    Today as we remember Dennis, who served as ATLA’s Executive director for fifteen years, I am honored to share some highlights from his amazing grace-filled life and excerpts from his own writings.
    Dennis Arthur Norlin, 71, died June 7, 2013, at home , following a long illness. He was preceded in death by his parents, Grant Arthur Norlin and Lily Marie (Odland) Norlin. He is survived by Sandra (Roth),his wife of 49 years, his children, Catherine of Highland Park, IL; Dr. Mia Norlin Nagle of Chicago, IL; and Christopher John Severin Norlin of Montgomery, IL. He was the proud and adoring grandfather of three grandsons, Grant, Charles Dennis, and Langston, and three granddaughters, Eleanor, Yasmean, and Maya. Just last month I had the opportunity to see Dennis and many of his family members in Chicago.
    Dennis was born on May 5, 1942 in Sioux Falls, SD. He graduated from Washington High School and went on to earn several other degrees, including a BA from Augustana College (1964), B.D. from Luther Seminary(1968), PhD in Protestant Theology from The University of Iowa (1972), M. Library Science from the University of Illinois (1989). His areas of scholarship included the theology of Alfred North Whitehead ,Process Thought, and American Church History.
    Dennis was a professor of Philosophy and Religion at Purdue University and South Dakota State University (1976-1988); a pastor at St Olaf Lutheran Church in Ft. Dodge, IA and Zion Lutheran Church in Philo, IL; Director of Pastoral Services at Trinity Regional Hospital in Ft. Dodge, IA; Assistant Undergraduate Librarian at the University of Illinois (1988-1993); the Director of the Devereaux Library at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, SD(1993-1995); and of course, the Executive Director of the American Theological Library Association in Chicago, IL (1995 -2010). He retired in 2010. During his fifteen-year tenure, ATLA grew to include nearly 1,000 members and the provision of many programs, products, and services in support of theological and religious studies libraries and librarians. Dennis made many valuable contributions to ATLA including overseeing the creation and growth of many ATLA products, developing relationships locally, regionally and internationally with many publishing and information partners, supporting initiatives to preserve endangered religious and theological materials, and mentoring members and staff and helping them grow in their careers

    In 2011, he and Sandra moved to their new home on Turtle Lake, near Interlochen, MI, where he was able to enjoy visits from family and friends and time to return to his avocation, music. They began to collaborate on musical compositions, with the goal of writing hymns based on Psalms to give to friends and family on their Christmas list. They also attended concerts at Interlochen Arts Academy, and traveled frequently to Chicago to attend Chicago Symphony Orchestra concerts and the Lyric Opera.
    As I was preparing for today, I went backed and looked at the many years of weekly columns Dennis write. I will share two special stories.
    This is what I learned at the 2008 ATLA Annual Conference. It was at the Orthodox Worship service on Saturday morning. One of the noteworthy things about Orthodox worship is the repetition of prayers. In the Saturday service, one prayer was repeated 40 times in rapid succession. I remember thinking, “why repeat the same prayer so many times?”
    And then during a brief homily, the priest told of a member of his congregation, a homeland security officer who came to him asking what he could do to avoid becoming cynical and hardened. His job required him to regard everyone who passed through his station with suspicion as a potential terrorist or criminal, and it was having a debilitating effect on him.
    “Say a prayer for each person who comes to your station,” the priest said. “Just say a small blessing for each person to yourself, and then ask the questions you are required to ask.” “If you do that, you will see everyone you meet as a Child of God.”
    I thought about that a lot, and I thought about how simple it was; how childlike. I also thought about how it framed one’s relationship with God. Rather than view oneself as competing with everyone else for God’s attention and blessing and response, one would be asking God’s blessings on others.
    Instead of beginning with yourself, the Orthodox Priest said, “Say a blessing for everyone you meet.”
    So, when I got back to Chicago, I decided to try it. Monday morning when I went to the train station, as I noticed each person on the train I said this little blessing, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” I included the irritating train conductor, the man who always tries to push his way to the head of the line, and the woman who talks constantly on her cell phone.
    “The Lord Bless You and Keep You;” “The Lord Bless You and Keep You;” “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” Now I recognize every person I meet, first and foremost, as a Child of God. That is the gift I took with me from our 2008 Annual Conference.
    Here is another story:
    Many years ago my daughter gave me a coffee cup that I have kept with me every day since. It’s a plain beige mug, but the inscriptions are what matter to me. One side says:
    That man is a success who strives quietly to make his corner of the world a little bit better.
    The other side of the mug says:
    That man is a success who brings out the best in others and gives the best of himself.
    In days that get frenetic, in a world that reveals people whose goal is to destroy, to terrify, and to tear down, this cup is a constant reminder to me of who I want to be.
    I am grateful for the talented and dedicated staff of ATLA, and I am thankful for an entire association of members who exemplify their commitment to the sayings on my cup (men and women!) without the benefit of a visible reminder.

    Finally, I share a story that Dennis liked to tell.
    There once was a man who went out in a big Lake on a fishing boat and he got in big trouble: he was in over his head, in a boat about to capsize. The people onshore fired a rope out to him, and eventually got him to shore. When he reached the shore—this man—who had a foul mouth, who wasn’t ethical, who no one really cared about—asked why did you do it? I am not worth it! The rescuers answered “be worth it.”
    Dennis Arthur Norlin, beloved son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, uncle, friend, pastor, teacher, librarian, director, musician, and always, child of God.

    The Lord Bless You and Keep You, Dennis. The Lord Bless You and Keep You, Dennis.
    The Lord Bless You and Keep You, Dennis.

  34. Barbara Kemmis says:

    My sincere condolences to Dennis’ family, friends and the many members and acquaintances his presence touched. And he touched many lives. Reading the remembrances and stories shared on this page reminds me of the high standard of member service Dennis set for ATLA. Members – people – came first over profit and that is too rare these days. Dennis set an inclusive and inquisitive tone that made room for all to play a role within ATLA. His commitment to diversity extended beyond race to theology, geography, budget-size, the least and the greatest.

    I took these lessons with me and value Dennis’ influence on my own personal and professional life. I now lead a trade association in the death care industry and we discuss the importance of transformational experiences versus transactional. Humans crave connection and Dennis understood and practiced that. I mourn the severed connection that death brings, yet am reminded of the value of the remaining connections in life.

    On this sad day of Dennis’ memorial service I wish all who loved and respected him a transformational experience and comfort in memories.

  35. Mary Bischoff says:

    My first reaction to the notice of Dennis’ death was, No, it can’t be! I was sorry to see him retire from ATLA but assumed he would have many good years to enjoy his family and the special interests he put aside for his work. My heart goes out to Sandra and his children in this time of loss.

    I wanted to hire Dennis as Head of Public Services for JKM Library but was unable to offer him a salary that met his family’s needs. His special gifts as a colleague would have saved me a lot of later grief, but after he became ATLA’s executive director I knew he was where he was most needed. Others have recounted his important work in furthering the work of the association and his great heart. I can only second their praise and echo their sense of loss.

    Rest in peace, Dennis. You will be remembered by many who loved you as a friend and colleague.

  36. Tim Elston says:

    I am sorry to read of Dennis’s death. He was a terrific executive director for the staff of ATLA. I fondly remember the birthday cards, the February birthday group lunches he hosted, the ad hoc Chicago river boat cruise he treated us to one summer Friday, his impeccable taste for office architecture, the congenial manner with which he related to all of us, his intelligent and effective leadership. Those years from 2003 to 2008–working in an office in which Dennis set the smart, colegial, happy tone–those were good working years, indeed. His memory guides us who remain.

  37. Beth Bidlack says:

    My deepest sympathies to Dennis’ family, friends, and former colleagues. Dennis touched many lives in so many ways. His warmth, support, and encouragement have been important in my own professional development within ATLA. I have benefited from many of the programs started under his leadership, including the Wabash Colloquy and the Theological Librarianship course at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Thanks to these initiatives, I’ve grown to serve ATLA by serving on its committees, interest groups, and board of directors. Dennis’ passion for ATLA was contagious, and his caring attention to individuals continues to inspire me and many others. Thank you, Dennis.

  38. Brenda Bailey-Hainer says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Dennis Norlin when he visited the ATLA office in the spring after I started as Executive Director at ATLA. True to his reputation, he was warm and friendly and quick to make a personal connection with me by noting our common ties to South Dakota and music. Although Dennis is with us now only in spirit, evidence of his handiwork lives on in all facets of the Association.

    In mid-1996 when he took over the helm as Executive Director, ATLA was in financial crisis. By making tough decisions including a serious downsizing of operations, he quickly regained ATLA’s solvency and the organization was operating in the black again in less than three years.

    The evolution of the information industry and its rapid adoption of technology created turbulence, potentially damaging to ATLA’s products. But again, Dennis safely navigated those waters and was able to oversee the transition of products in print to CD-ROM to solely online, a difficult task while still preserving ATLA’s revenue. Internally, he embraced technology to improve record keeping related to membership, going from notebooks filled with paper forms to a relational database that allowed ATLA to better understand and serve its members. In the early 2000’s, he oversaw the selection of a new production system which would support MARC records. A version of that production system is still in use today.

    Always one to dream of new ways to provide access to scholarly information in religion and theology, Dennis brought a proposal to the board in 1999. It was for something called “ATLAS” and was described as a three-year project to digitize 50 years of 50 journals. This “short term” project has grown into the ATLASerials® collection of full text, which now covers 250 journals and is still growing. Another relatively new concept was implemented under his watch: ATLA’s open access journal, Theological Librarianship, which will be celebrating its 5th anniversary at this year’s annual conference.

    One of Dennis’ strengths was the ability to find funding, whether it was from federal grants to create microfilm for preservation purposes or from private foundations to assist with the cost of moving the office from Evanston to Chicago. This funding flowed out of his ability to build strong personal relationships with funders and leaders at organizations that operate in the same religion and theology space as ATLA.

    Dennis always balanced the creation of ATLA’s products with support for developing strong theological libraries and librarians. Another of his accomplishments was the creation of the Wabash Teaching and Learning Colloquy on The Role of Theological School Librarians, which just graduated its 4th class. The Wabash Colloquy has produced many fine leaders who have served as ATLA board members and committee chairs and who have taken on the role of director at their institutions. Dennis had a strong affinity for cultivating international relationships and made many overseas trips to work with theological library associations around the globe, forging particularly strong ties with Bibliotheques Europeennes de Theologie (BETH). He championed diversity efforts within the Association as well.

    But Dennis wasn’t just about business and using technology to gain efficiencies. He was a warm and generous person who took the time to recognize the accomplishments of staff and members, learn about their personal situations, and mentor them in their careers.

    As he planned for his retirement, Dennis often talked of bringing the ATLA ship safely into port in preparation for a new captain. He succeeded better than he realized and will be remembered for his tremendous legacy at ATLA.

    [This tribute was published as “Dennis Norlin and His Legacy” in the Executive Director’s column in the June 2013 issue of the ATLA Newsletter.]

  39. Barbara Terry says:

    It was sad for me to read about Dennis Norlin’s “homegoing”. I will always remember Dennis with joy. He always greeted me by name with that warm smile. He took a nervous middle-aged new comer to ATLA and encouraged me to become active in newly formed ATLA Special Committee of the Association for International Collaboration. Thank you, Dennis, for making ATLA personal and practical in my life. Thank you also for sharing in my joy when I returned to be part of an International Library after my term on the committee.

  40. Randy Wilburn says:

    Dear Sandy and family,
    We are so very sad to learn of Dennis’ death. We were in seminary together over 45 yrs. ago. We enjoyed sharing conversation, music, and meals. We enjoyed the birthing of children and visiting you in Iowa. So many great memories, yet, so long since we connected. Karin and I feel a real loss because a very authentic, bright, caring, and compassionate person is gone. A light has gone out. We may never meet face to face, but know that we can see your face and we share your grief of his passing and the gratitude for knowing and loving him.
    Peace, Randy and Karin Wilburn

  41. Beth and Andrew L'Amour says:

    Sorry to hear of the loss of a great neighbor and friend. My sympathies to Sandra and the children and grandchildren.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s