M. Hortense Haith Schaefer was born to Ella and James Oscar Haith in Portsmouth, Virginia, on August 31, 1924. She attended kindergarten at St. James Episcopal Church. Mrs. Baylese Birchette was her teacher and she learned to read under her instruction. When Hortense entered I. C. Norcom Elementary School, Mrs. Pearl Riddick promoted her and her classmates to the 1A or second half of First Grade. The teachers at I. C. Norcom were very dedicated to and interested in their students. The English teachers encouraged the memorization of passages of literature and poetry. Many life lessons were taught along with the subject matter. The importance of getting a good education was firmly impressed on the minds of the young people of that era. The teachers inspired a love of learning and an appreciation for the opportunity to learn. Students had to buy their books and if their parents could not afford to buy them, they had to do without books. Some of the elementary school classes were held in old condemned buildings. Others were held in demountable buildings called the 'chicken coops'. These had no washroom facilities. Black students were not allowed in the public library. Therefore when one could use the attractive rooms of the beautiful brick high school, one had ARRIVED! I. C. Norcom became a symbol of enrichment and empowerment.
Mrs. Ruth Waters was the homeroom teacher for the February of 1940s Graduating Class. She asked her students to write a special school song. The lyrics written by Hortense Haith Schaefer were chosen. They are sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne". Hortense was inspired by many dedicated teachers at Norcom and appreciated their concern for their students.
Hortense Haith Schaefer became an elementary school teacher in the Chicago Public School system. She used poetry and dramatics extensively in her classroom. She is the mother of three sons, grandmother of two, and great-grandmother of two. After she retired, she volunteered as the docent at the DuSable Museum of African American History. Square dancing and genealogy were two of her hobbies. The WIM Block Club Association sponsors the Hortense Schaefer Scholarship Fund. The Orchidettes Bridge Club, the Parents' Guild Social Club, and the West Virginia State University Alumni Association now claim most of her time.
The most amazing revelation for Hortense was the discovery that the words she wrote in childhood adoration of her school, have become a unifying force and inspiration to thousands of Norcomites who have followed her. It is heartwarming to observe the enthusiasm of a room filled with Norcomites swaying and singing "For You Dear Norcom..."
Ms. M. Hortense Haith Schaefer, we sincerely thank you,
The I. C. Norcom High School Family