WATERBURY, Neb. | Tears flow the minute Jeanette Schwartz steps into the old gymnasium in tiny Waterbury on Tuesday night, first time she's been in the place she and her late husband, Norman Schwartz, saved it from a wrecking ball 17 years ago.
Norman Schwartz, 69, died Feb. 16. He left behind his family, a collection of classic cars, hundreds of rock 'n' roll friends and Storm'n Norman's Rock N Roll Auditorium at 105 Main St. in Waterbury, population 73.
Hundreds are expected to gather Saturday night as The Senders pay tribute to this concert hall's namesake, playing "Dedicated to the One I Love."
"One day that song struck a chord with me," says Jeanette Schwartz, who joins their son, Kory Schwartz, in planning the bash. "We'll also show a film of Norm's life on Saturday. The people who come there became like family to us."
Norman Schwartz was looking for a place to store his cars and boats in 1996 when a friend suggested he consider the 1953 gymnasium that served the Waterbury school, a half hour from Sioux City. He had been in Waterbury just once before.
He drove out, looked the place over and went back to get Jeanette. "We went out there and he said this was the place he wanted," she says.
Her reaction? "I thought this was something we could do together," she says.
Schwartz traded a black 1987 Corvette and cash for the gym, whose floor was covered in muck and mud, thanks to a leaky roof. The couple made improvements. Norm stored about 30 vehicles inside and briefly considered taking out the bleachers for additional storage capacity.
Jeanette couldn't stand to see the bleachers go, part of the fabric of this treasure. So, they backed the vehicles out and made a rock 'n' roll dance hall. They've hosted Saturday night dances once per month from April through October since 1997.
I was there seven years ago and met dozens of folks in saddle shoes, poodle skirts and smiles. The Senders, an Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductee, played that night, too.
"The Senders is one of our biggest draws," Jeanette says.
This Saturday? The memory of Storm'n Norman will draw. The Mason City, Iowa, native graduated with East High in Sioux City in 1961. He opened Norman's Used Cars in Sioux City six years later, and gained a bit of a following in a 15-year stock car racing career.
The 35-year American Family Insurance Agent, a resident of Hinton, Iowa, wasn't a huge music man until he transformed this gym. There are as many classic car parts around the dance floor as you'll find in most Siouxland "show and shine" classic car events.
"For a guy who wasn't huge into music, he became a real rock-n-roller," Jeanette says, adding that guests on Saturday are expected from all over Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Colorado.
Jeanette says her husband of 37 years had a stroke in March 2011. He recovered and returned to work -- and play. In late 2012, however, his energy and appetite waned. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., diagnosed him with cancer in January.
"They gave him three to four months to live," she says.
Instead, he had but 2 1/2 weeks. He was buried Feb. 23 at Elk Point City Cemetery, a few feet from the couple's daughter, Jill Schwartz, who died in a motorcycle accident in July.
Saturday's memorial will be the first big gathering since Storm'n Norman's funeral barely six weeks ago. Jeanette, Kory and the rest of the Schwartz tribe can't wait.
"It's like a family (at Storm'n Norman's)," Jeanette says. "Everyone knows everyone else. They all have such a good time. People have told us for years how thankful they are to have this place. We get the best of the best out there."