By Denise Lodge
Norma Armon is living an amazing life. She currently holds two PhDs; co-owns a successful translation agency with her daughter; has been a professor, newspaper editor, and television producer; and has published multiple books and teleplays. However, Armon does not consider learning a limited endeavour; on the contrary, she sees in life a never-ending opportunity to learn, and is motivated by a “constant curiosity about the world around her.” To this end, Armon has been going back to school every fall since she received her PhDs in the 70s, and takes one new course each year.
Since Armon was a little girl, she has found solace in literature. Her mother owned a collection of books for children filled with pieces of literature in which Armon still “delights,” including poetry, plays, and the works of Plato. She was drawn to history from an early age as well, captivated by the idea that “we can read about the past and recreate it in our minds.”
These educational beginnings took root, and now Armon, 74, holds two PhDs; one is in English Language and Literature, and the other is in Linguistics. Armon was drawn to linguistics because she “wanted to understand what made the insides of language tick.”
When asked what motivates her to continue to pursue formal education, Armon says that she is “still curious, and still wants to learn in a communal setting.” She does not always take courses at the same institution, but often attends OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, at Berkeley, University of California. At OLLI, distinguished faculty members from Berkeley and other experts hold courses, lectures, and other special events for older students. Armon hopes “never to stop learning.” Aging has in no way altered her “desire for further education.”
Although Armon has not experienced any adverse effects of aging on her educational endeavours, she would like to change some aspects of the culture of older adults. She would particularly appreciate it “if older adults would stop using their age as an excuse,” and she resents it when “older adults become invisible to the younger generations, their opinions discounted, their preferences ignored, their value taken for granted.”
Some of Armon’s favourite fields of study are literature, history, civics, and technology; recently, she branched out into animal husbandry. One of her goals is to learn to live completely “off the grid” by cultivating all of the food she requires for sustenance. Armon has completed a series of classes on raising poultry, and one about beekeeping. She will be applying the tools and lessons she gains from the courses; she does not do “anything without studying it first.” She has built a chicken coop and a chicken run, will raise chickens beginning in the spring, and is enjoying the challenge of the lifestyle. Her interest in animal husbandry, like her appreciation of literature, stems from her childhood. She has been a committed activist since she was a child, recycling and eating organic food before they became fashionable, and cites Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a source of inspiration.
Entrepreneurship and Experience
For nearly thirty years, Armon has partnered with her daughter, Carla Itzkowich, to own and operate International Contact, Inc., a multilanguage translation agency that assists small and large corporations and government agencies to address their target markets in over 100 languages. Armon, whose first language is Spanish, directed and produced television programs for Spanish-speaking viewers during the 70s and 80s; when Carla graduated from college, she also worked in television, as a broker. The mother-daughter duo joined forces to create their own program for cable television; they later translated the program into Japanese, and soon after, other foreign languages followed. When clients began requesting print materials, their translation agency was born.
Armon took the minority stake in the business to allow her daughter to experience the responsibility that comes with ownership, and has seen Carla develop “into a wonderful businesswoman.” Despite her many achievements, Armon was most proud when Carla “invited her to join the business.” She is also thankful to count her children as her best friends and be among theirs, and modestly includes some of her writings and some of the classes she has taught among her greatest achievements to date.
Life is a Banquet
When asked what she thinks about retirement, Armon says, “I don’t think about it at all. I suppose the time will come when I will, but I enjoy what I do enormously.” In addition to her academic and professional pursuits, Armon lives a full life; she “plays tennis competitively, writes copiously, gardens intensely, and reads avidly.” She is in the midst of writing a novel, and is still working to live “off the grid.” Armon says she agrees with Rosalind Russell: “life is a banquet,” and she wants to make sure she is at the table, “enjoying the offerings to the fullest and expressing the pleasure derived with great appreciation.”