Wineka column: As Alzheimer’s creeps in, Quantz makes sure not to forget his life’s story

  • Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 12:21 a.m.
Mark Wineka/Salisbury Post   Norman Quantz, sitting at his dining room table, has the notebook open to his life's story.
Mark Wineka/Salisbury Post Norman Quantz, sitting at his dining room table, has the notebook open to his life's story.

SALISBURY — Heavy tomes rest across one end of Norman R. Quantz’s dining room table, including a three-ring notebook that he retrieves and opens up to the first page.

He has titled it, “The Life and Times of Norman Ray Quantz.”


Quantz wrote and typed most of the 160-plus, single-spaced pages back in his 50s. Almost 80 now, Quantz says his early Alzheimer’s — he was diagnosed with dementia several years ago — would prevent him from adding much more to the story.

But he trusts these particular recollections and hopes they’ll give his children more details about their heritage when he’s gone or no longer can remember.

“All the facts are there,” Quantz says. “It just hasn’t been polished.”

• • •

Quantz pulls over a volume of an old encyclopedia and turns to an entry for Johann Joachin Quantz (1697-1773), a grandfather many times removed. This Quantz was a noted German flutist and composer who played before the King of Poland and gave flute lessons to Frederick the Great, the crown prince.

Frederick made Quantz his court composer and supervisor of court music. His chief duty was to compose the music and conduct the palace concerts in which the king played the flute.

Johann Quantz would end up publishing about 500 pieces of music for the flute. He is credited with adding a second key to the instrument and a sliding top for tuning. He also wrote an instruction book for flutists who wanted to play like a master.

So maybe the writing for Norman Quantz came naturally, though his life story is far different from kings, composers and court music.

Quantz and his family lived the true country life in southeastern Rowan County. He grew up in a small house his father had built and learned some of his alphabet from the cardboard boxes used for insulation on the inside walls and ceilings.

During the 20 years Quantz lived there and until he left for the Army, the house never had indoor plumbing or electricity. Things got even tougher when his father, John Samuel Quantz, died in 1944 when Norman was 11.

• • •

Some of the genealogical books on the dining room table tell how the Quantzes migrated from Germany to the United States. Norman’s great-grandfather Henry Quantz of Hanover, Germany, came here in the mid 1800s and was part of a work train rebuilding bridges during the Civil War.

Henry Quantz later died when a work train derailed on a trestle and tumbled into a ravine at Narrow Passage, Va.

Norman’s grandfather John Jacob Quantz was born in 1850 on a ship coming to America. He wound up marrying Mary Catherine “Kate” Brown, which became the family connection to Rowan County. The Brown — or Braun, in German — family was among the earliest settlers in Rowan.

Kate Quantz gave birth to Norman’s father, John Samuel, in 1881, and he married Bertha Regina Freeze. The couple had three boys — Percy, Norman and Vernon, so this is where Norman’s personal story begins.

As an aside, Norman notes his mother’s brother, Oscho Freeze, was a policeman in Salisbury who worked his way up to chief. Freeze used to station himself at the small police hut on the Square in Salisbury and help small children such as Barbara West cross the street.

Barbara would later become Norman’s wife. They were married Feb. 7, 1955.

• • •

Before Norman was born, John Samuel Quantz worked as a boilermaker at Spencer Shops. But he and his wife, Bertha, would buy 50 acres of land off N.C. 152 (near Happy’s Lake) and start a farm.

Trees had to be cleared, roads carved out of the land and a house built. Except for the brick chimney, John Samuel Quantz constructed the house himself. It was tiny. Norman recalls a living room/bedroom combination, kitchen and storage room.

The furnishings also were spare — two double beds, a woodstove, kitchen cookstove and bureau. The wooden floors were never sanded or finished.

The family had a 5-gallon kerosene can to provide the fuel for two lamps. The roof leaked, and you could see the outside through cracks in the wall.

From a spring, Norman and his older brother, Percy, carried water to the house in two lard buckets.

“He’s not kidding about being in the woods,” Barbara Quantz says, recalling the first time she saw Norman’s childhood home.

The wash pot for boiling clothes stood in the front yard. And Bertha Quantz made her own soap.

All the wood for cleaning, cooking and heating had to come from the surrounding land that hadn’t yet been cleared. To fell trees, John Samuel and his boys relied on a two-man crosscut saw and axes.

“If we needed wood, we had to go out and get it,” Norman says.

• • •

The Quantz farm had chickens, two milk cows, goats, vegetable gardens and crops that included cotton, corn and wheat. In fact, John Samuel Quantz got into the chicken business in a big way.

He built three chicken houses and, at the peak of a season, the farm might have upwards of 1,000 chickens. Norman said he and Percy could fill a bushel basket with eggs from each of the chicken houses.

The Quantzes sold chickens and traded the eggs for groceries at Deal’s Store on Mount Hope Church Road. They took their wheat to a mill and their cotton to a gin. Both places were in Rockwell.

Norman credits his father for being sort of an inventor. He devised his own stump-puller that “worked real good,” Norman recalls, and he engineered a foolproof way to stack chicken cages on the back of his truck.

The boys helped their father create two large vegetable gardens near the house to help sustain the family. Norman remembers cutting trees, digging out stumps, burning brush and plowing with mules to get the gardens ready.

“If it hadn’t been for the gardens, we wouldn’t have had much to eat,” he says.

Norman blames a fall from a hay wagon for his father’s death. John Samuel seriously hurt his back and later developed a clot and died.

After the father’s passing, most of the manly work for a time fell to Percy and Norman. (Their brother Vernon was much younger.)

Bertha Quantz also was a good farmhand and gardener, Norman says.

Norman attended a three-room schoolhouse called Park School for grades 1-6. He had to walk a little over a mile to get there. He later went to China Grove High School, where today’s middle school is, and graduated in 1951.

After high school, Percy and Vernon worked at Cannon Mills’ No. 3 Weave Room, relying on the mill bus every day to get them to and from the plant.

“I didn’t like it at all,” Norman says. “That was factory work. I had always worked outside.”

• • •

During the Korean War, Norman received his draft notice but decided to enlist in the Army instead, given his distaste for the mill.

It would lead to 20 years total in the military — 12 in the Army and eight in the Air Force.

Without checking his three-ring notebook, it’s hard for Norman to remember all the bases and assignments he was on. His stops included South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, California, Texas and New Jersey, but there were more.

Across the seas, he was part of the occupational forces still in place in Germany after World War II. He also served in the Philippines, on a top-secret mission in Turkey and in the early days of the Vietnam War.

It was while he was home on leave from Germany that he married his high school sweetheart, Barbara, in a quick ceremony in Chesterfield, S.C. They drove to South Carolina in his aunt’s 1952 Oldsmobile.

But with his leave soon over, Quantz returned to Germany without his bride for 11 months, 11 days.

“He married me and left me,” Barbara complains from the living room.

• • •

Barbara and their three children who followed could live with Quantz sometimes over the next two decades. Other times, they faced some long stretches apart, such as the 10 1/2 months the family had to wait until family housing opened up in the Philippines.

Though Quantz originally was trained as a radio operator, he became a military policeman in Germany. In his second enlistment, Quantz was handed a Browning automatic rifle and “played” soldier in the woods and fields for six months before he jumped at a chance to volunteer for the Signal Corps.

He then received training as a radio relay operator.

Quantz stayed in the Signal Corps until changing course and enlisting in the Air Force. He had a similar job in the Air Force, though he found the equipment to be much more sophisticated.

Twice in the military — once for the Army and once for the Air Force — the FBI conducted extensive background checks on Quantz and his family because of the classified missions he was on.

• • •

In the eight months between his last enlistment in the Army and his decision to enter the Air Force, Norman and his family lived in Jacksonville, Fla., and he tried two or three jobs, including one as a security guard for the Pinkerton agency.

Again, Quantz didn’t like the civilian work or its pay. He checked with the Army about reenlisting and learned he would have had to drop a rank. The Air Force took him in at the sergeant’s E-5 rank, and within two years he was E-6.

“It seemed strange having a different uniform,” Quantz says of his move to the Air Force.

His 1963-64 stint in Vietnam occurred while he was still a radioman in the Army.

Quantz left the military for good in 1973, when he was a technical sergeant for the Air Force. The Quantzes were living back in Jacksonville when the bottom fell out of the economy, Norman says, and the family moved to Rowan County, where Barbara’s mother was living.

Quantz will never forget the help the family had in moving, thanks to the Andrew Jackson Masonic Lodge.

Quantz went on to have jobs with A.L. Jarrell Construction and Loeblein Furniture until he became a correctional officer, eventually working at Piedmont Correctional Center, often referred to as “the high-rise.”

He put in 17 years at the prison and retired as a lieutenant.

But there’s a lot more to tell about the high-rise, Quantz says, turning to that section of his notebook.

It’s a story he promises to finish on another day.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.


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