Children’s book author and illustrator Norman Bridwell was born Feb. 15, 1928, to Vern Ray, a factory worker in this predominantly automotive town, and Leona Koontz Bridwell, a homemaker. He attended McKinley Elementary School (now McKinley Alternative School) at 1217 W. Carter St., about eight blocks from his home. He always gave special credit to his teacher there, Ethelyn Tucker, for recognizing his talent and encouraging him to major in art.
Bridwell always spoke fondly of his hometown and his childhood home. You’ll even find a popular downtown spot from his youth, Sweets Book Store, 105 N. Buckeye St., in one of his books, Puppy Days. In it, you’ll see Clifford standing in line to go to a movie and Sweets Book Store next door.
Kokomo has, in turn, recognized him. In May 1994, Indiana University Kokomo conferred the honorary degree of Doctor of Human Letters. They honored his literary, educational, and civic contributions, particularly his support for Reading is Fundamental, a national nonprofit children’s literacy organization. On July 31, 2010, the Howard County Historical Society recognized Bridwell as one of the first inductees into the Howard County Hall of Legends, the community’s way to recognize accomplished and well-known people from Kokomo and Howard County. Artist Misch Kohn, whose story is also on this tour, was also in that class of inductees.
On July 27, 2017, Kokomo and Howard County designated Bridwell’s home as a historic site. “Norman is, without a doubt, one of our favorite sons,” said Dave Broman, Executive Director of the Howard County Historical Society. “It’s a pleasure to be able to recognize his boyhood home. He is truly an American treasure, not just a Kokomo treasure.”