Remembering Norm: Leevers family carrying on father’s legacy
One of Devils Lake’s true business giants - Norm Leevers - died just over a decade ago at the age of 87.
He built a virtual grocery store empire in North Dakota, and his company still has stores in Rugby, Rolla, Langdon, Cavalier, Valley City, Jamestown and Devils Lake.
His legacy has endured since the late 1930s. It wasn’t a “chain” of stores he put together, rather a group of stores with a true focus on people and the community.
“Dad had a real focus on customer service,” says son Bob, who is currently at the top of Devils Lake’s County Market.
“He had a lot of empathy for people. He knew their needs and wants and listened to them intently.”
Leevers was born in July of 1913 in England. He came to the United States with his mother, brother and sister as a two-year-old.
Because of tough times, Norm was sent to live with extended family in Minneapolis at the age of eight.
His interest in the grocery store business was piqued in high school and he eventually worked his way to Fargo and became a produce manager.
In 1937, he purchased a small store in Devils Lake known as the Lake IGA.
Throughout the years his business incorporated and became a regional chain with several stores in North Dakota.
There were also other stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Colorado, supplied primarily by Super Valu Stores Inc. in Minneapolis.
When Norm married Marjorie Beth McCabe in Fargo in 1939, they established their home in Devils Lake.
Over the years, Norm was involved in many civic and business organizations, and received many awards.
He and his wife were parents to four children, John (Jack), Thomas, Robert and Mary Beth. Thomas preceeded him in death.
Because of his life-long focus on people and community, he was held in extremely high esteem in many circles.
And he left a distinct impression and indelible imprint on his family.
“He taught me so much discipline and patience,” recalls Bob. “And he was so good at greeting people, knowing people and caring about people. He knew so many people.”
Bob had a first-hand experience with his dad’s popularity back in the 1960’s.
That was when Bob was playing hockey at the University of Wisconsin and he and his dad were at a football game on campus.
“There were many 80,000 people there and a guy by the name of ‘Bunny’ Aylesworth from Devils Lake was sitting nearby,” Bob recalls with amazement.
“He jumped up and shouted ‘Hi Norm.’ That always left an impression with me, but it happended quite often. There were so many people who knew him and happy to see him.”
As he grew older, Norm wintered in Arizona but remained active with his business. He’d stop by the office every day in the summer and Jack and Bob always kept him informed.
His death touched a lot of people in 2001, making state-wide television news.
“He touched so many people and we’ve always tried to follow his example,” Bob adds. “But it’s a tough act to follow.”
The Leevers’ stores in Devils Lake were previously located on Fourth St. near the former Glicksons Store, Fourth Ave. near the Liquid Bean and from 1957 to now at its present location.
Bob, Jack and Mary Beth remain.