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Lynn Garden Restaurant bids farewell to ‘Mama’ Norma Russell

Serina Marshall • Oct 28, 2019 at 10:52 AM

After nearly 40 years of serving the community, Norma Russell is hanging up her apron.

This dedicated and highly respected lady has worked at several different venues within the region, but almost always for the same family: the Kerneys. In 1981, Norma began working for Bill Kerney and worked with him at Gateway Restaurant and The Campus Drive-In in Gate City. In 1989, Norma loyally followed Anna and Mike Kerney to Lynn Garden, where her legacy at the Lynn Garden Restaurant changed the lives of every single customer who walked through the door.

Over the years, Norma has made incredible memories within the walls of the restaurant.

Through tear-filled eyes, Norma recollected about the strangers who became family and the place that became home. Moving from booth to booth, Norma named the people in the booth and, with pride in her eyes, spoke of their friendship.

“Mike feels more like my brother than my boss,” Norma said.

It is the same bond and relationship that keeps the customers coming back.

“Norma is the whole package. She is family to the customers. Some don’t have family. She becomes that for them. No one leaves lonely. If they didn’t know Norma when they walked in, they would know her when they walked out,” Keltie Kerney explained

Norma knows where each person will sit and what they will eat. There have actually been patrons come in and without hesitation say, “Norma knows what I want.”

Norma’s extremely professional work ethic is another thing that is doted on — as well as her place among the others that work alongside her and lovingly call her “Mama.”

One of the things Norma loves about Lynn Garden Restaurant is the history that adorns not only the booths, as regulars eat their usual orders, but also the walls. Historian Kenny Stallard has photos all over the restaurant of years gone by. Even the tables have history. One table that’s special to Norma is a round table where a group of patrons would sit every Saturday morning, so she named them “The Knights of the Round Table.” There’s the Saturday morning breakfast group and the Saturday Morning Lynn Garden Gang.

One of her greatest memories, however, is when she met Johnny Cash. “It was a Sunday and he just came right in through the door. He looked at me and asked where the men’s room was,” Norma excitedly tells the story. “He was dressed all in black. When he came back through, he shook my hand and said, ‘Hello. I’m Johnny Cash’ and I said, ‘Yeah buddy you sure are’!”

Those are just a few of the many moments that made her time worth every single clock in and clock out. It’s all part of what Norma will miss as she moves back home to Arkansas to live with her siblings and enjoy retirement. But, among the luggage and moving boxes, she will also be taking with her the memories and love of a restaurant and the people she met there.

One thing Norma knows without a doubt is that no matter what direction she is going — whether here or there — she is always heading back to her family.

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