Mystery of cremated remains solved as family, friend plan proper burial
ROCKWELL — After years of questions, Blake Norway, 11, will be able to visit his grandfather’s final resting place.
The cremated remains of Blake’s grandfather, Dennis Derald Norway, who died on Feb. 13, 2008, were discovered in a closet in a Kannapolis rental house last year by the landlord.
Terry Parham set the box of ashes aside, sure that someone would come forward to claim the remains. Months passed, and no one did. When Parham ran across the box again recently, he asked the Post to help him find the dead man’s family.
Readers responded with an outpouring of concern and tips about the man’s identity, and many suggested ways to ensure that Norway, a veteran, would receive a proper military burial even if his ashes went unclaimed.
In the meantime, a certain 11-year-old boy in Salisbury was reading the Sunday paper. Blake became very upset when he read the story about his grandfather and realized that his remains had been missing for years and were not handled properly, mother Melissa Norway Wilhelm said.
Blake is the little boy in a photograph tucked into his grandfather’s wallet, which Parham found in the cardboard box with the bagged ashes. Blake was 5 years old when Norway died of pancreatic cancer at the Hefner VA Medical Center.
“He was his grandfather’s pride and joy,” Wilhelm said.
Blake has been asking his mother for two years where his grandfather was buried so he could visit the grave and place flowers in his memory. Wilhelm said she was never able to determine from her ex-husband, Dennis Norway Jr., exactly where the ashes were, so she recently decided to create a memorial garden to help give her son closure.
Now, it appears that Norway will receive a military burial, thanks to the N.C. National Guard Funeral Honors Team. Details are pending.
“Blake will be so relieved to know his ashes have been recovered and he will have a proper military burial,” Wilhelm said.
Parham was scheduled to deliver Norway’s ashes today to Alberta Rose Egloff, an 80-year-old Rockwell woman who was Norway’s companion for 10 years and cared for him during his final days. Egloff spent most of Monday talking to reporters and Norway’s sister in Massachusetts.
The women had no idea that Norway’s remains had been missing for years.
“I’m just ticked terribly about the fact that he got left in a closet,” Egloff said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s very, very upsetting.
“After this many years, for something to come back like this, it is almost haunting.”
Family members held a memorial service for Norway at the VA Medical Center after he passed away in 2008. More than 50 people attended, a bigger crowd than expected, Egloff said.
“Dennis was a really nice guy,” she said. “He was a very good Samaritan.”
Egloff said Norway wouldn’t think twice about stopping to help a stranded motorist, even if he was dressed in his Sunday best. Norway, who served in the U.S. Navy, was on the ship that picked up astronaut John Glenn in the Atlantic ocean after his orbit of earth on Feb. 20, 1962.
The couple shared a motto, “Pass it on.”
“When you do something good, instead of accepting a gift, tell the person to pass it along to the next person who needs help,” Egloff said. “We both really believed that.”
Egloff and Norway dated for about three years. When their romantic relationship ended, they remained close friends, and Norway eventually moved into Egloff’s home, the last trailer on a dead-end road in Rockwell. They each had their own bedroom and bathroom and shared the living room and kitchen. They hosted barbecues nearly every weekend.
“My kids loved him,” she said.
In fact, Egloff’s son met Norway, a roofer, in 1998 and introduced the man to his mother.
After the memorial service, Dennis Norway Jr. had possession of his father’s ashes. Egloff said she tried several times over the years to track down Norway Jr. and find out what happened to the remains.
Now she knows they were left on a closet shelf in Kannapolis.
“If I ever grab hold of Dennis Jr., I’m going to shake him until he wets his pants,” Egloff said.
That time may come sooner than Norway would like. He lives in Statesville and called the Post Monday to explain.
Norway never rented the house in Kannapolis, but he lived there for a few days during an emergency.
After his father died, Norway had taken some of the ashes and placed them in a variety of small urns for family members.
“In fact I’m looking at one of them right now,” he said.
He had intended to take the rest of the ashes up north, where much of the Norway family lives, and spread them in the ocean. He placed the box in the closet in Kannapolis. A few days later, he moved out.
“I thought I had taken it with me,” he said.
When he eventually realized his mistake, Norway said he went back to the house, but his friend had moved out and he could not reach him.
“I was hoping that somebody would eventually come forward with them,” he said.
Norway said he feels a huge sense of relief now that the ashes have been recovered.
“You don’t even know,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.