Norbert Hannes Hellmann, a proud first-generation German-American who taught English as an adjunct ESL professor at SUNY New Paltz to those seeking greater opportunities in life, and who was the devoted uncle to a young boy who loved to spend time with him, died Jan. 4, 2013 at the college. He was 53.
Norbert, who lived in Esopus, worked for SUNY New Paltz for 27 years. When he first joined the faculty in 1986, he was an instructor in the former Language Immersion Institute. Later, he became an ESL instructor, showing thousands of students that the English language wasn't as difficult to learn as it might initially seem.
Norbert was a dedicated teacher to his foreign-born students, and was known to regularly accompany them on class trips to see the sights in the Northeast area so they would get a feel for the English language "in action."
It wasn't only the understanding of the English language that Norbert wanted his students to master. Living and working in the United States offered them many opportunities for success, and that meant also understanding the nuances of the American culture.
In turn, his students were equally pleased to have Norbert as their ESL professor. Many posted messages of sympathy on his Facebook page as word spread of his untimely passing. Norbert would be flattered to know how they felt about him as they expressed their thoughts in their new language.
As one student wrote: "I am so sad today. My best professor died."
But Norbert's most cherished role was being an uncle to Michael Stelz. The two had an inseparably close bond, spending tremendous amounts of time together as Norbert taught him about the outdoors. They enjoyed hiking, kayaking and biking together.
Norbert also instilled a love of reading to Michael. The two of them would spend hours reading and re-reading their favorite books, J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit." They would always begin with Norbert reading one page and Michael continuing with reading the next. Norbert would get great pleasure seeing his nephew's vocabulary expand as they talked about the books' characters and their complicated plots and subplots.
Yet, what they did never really made a difference so long as they were together. The family called them "two peas in a pod." Many times that togetherness was simply being at the family's home watching the sunset by the lake or sitting by the fire under a starlit evening.
Norbert was born Nov. 8, 1959 in New York, N.Y. to Hannes and Waltraut "Trudy" Hellmann, German immigrants who came to this country in 1956.
The family moved to a charming old farmhouse on a breathtaking piece of waterfront property in Monroe in 1969. It was there that Norbert fell in love with the outdoors and where he would always return to spend time with his family.
The recent blended footprints of Norbert and his nephew Michael --- separated only by sled markings --- are still visible on the frozen, sun glazed snow in the family's yard as a last message to his family of his great love for his nephew and his attachment to the outdoors.
Norbert was a 1977 graduate of Monroe-Woodbury High School. He received his bachelor's degree in German and psychology from SUNY Albany; and his master's degree in teaching from SUNY Albany. He initially taught in public schools before he joined the SUNY New Paltz staff.
Norbert was an avid photographer, having a special fondness for taking outdoor images. He also enjoyed taking photos of his students during their class trips so they would have memories of their activities. To be sure they had those memoirs, he published an ESL departmental newsletter at SUNY New Paltz, which included the photos he took of his students.
He was also interested in travel, often returning to Germany to his native roots during the summer months and where his German fluency allowed him to blend in with the locals. Those trips also extended to other parts of Europe where Norbert enjoyed hiking in the Alps and finding inexpensive ways to enjoy and appreciate the European sights.
Norbert is survived by his mother Trudy of Monroe; his beloved sister Kristina M. Stelz of Monroe and his brother-in-law William E. Stelz; and his dearly loved nephew Michael Stelz.
His father Hannes predeceased him in 2003.
A visitation will be held on Thursday, Jan. 10 from 4 to 7 p.m. Smith, Seaman & Quackenbush, Inc. Funeral Home, 117 Maple Avenue in Monroe, with cremation at Cedar Hill Crematory in Middle Hope.