It all started a year ago as a prank that involved a goofy gnome statue, someone we wanted to poke fun at, Photoshop and a few minutes to kill. Suddenly, Gnorman was born at Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Of course, he wasn’t really “Gnorman” yet. He was just a silly image, bearing someone else’s face, hanging up as a joke in the naval air station public affairs office.
But we couldn’t let it stop there, and neither could you if your job was to fill the Tester newspaper each week and encourage people across the installation to read it. We began to brainstorm ideas on how we might put the gnome to work. First and foremost was giving him a name. “Gnorman” was an easy choice; he practically named himself.
We toyed with the idea of taking photos of him in various locations, running the photos in the newspaper and having people call in to identify where he was in order to win a prize. But driving him around base and taking all those photos required too much effort on our part. We’re not lazy, we’re just busy enough with all that interviewing and writing and those pesky weekly deadlines — hey, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
Instead, we came up with hiding Gnorman somewhere in the pages of Tester and having our readers locate him. That basically took the onus off us and put it entirely on Breton Helsel, our newspaper layout designer in Gaithersburg, Md., but it’s okay; she enjoys hiding him.
“I was skeptical at first,” Helsel said, “but once I determined I was not going to be fired for placing a garden gnome in the newspaper each week, I had a lot of fun trying to find the perfect hiding spot for him.”
Helsel keeps Gnorman versatile. Throughout the year she has varied his size; had him appear in both color and black and white; and, just last week, turned Gnorman pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
“I thought it’d be great to have Gnorman show his support,” she said. “Who knows, you may see him branching out and supporting other causes in the near future. If that goes over well, he may also try to work in some holiday celebrations.”
Gnorman made his debut in the Oct. 18, 2012, Tester in a rather understated way — on page 14, beneath a reenlistment photo and next to a dermatology ad. His image and contest rules were featured with the headline “Introducing Gnorman the Gnavy Gnome.”
That was the one and only time we referred to him as the Gnavy Gnome, since it occurred to us afterward that a branch of the military services may not relish being associated with a diminutive guy in a red pointed hat with butterflies on the soles of his shoes.
Deb Whitten, a contractor with Naval Air Systems Command, was our first winner that week and we’ve had dozens of them ever since.
Out of the 50 weeks Tester is published, there were only two when no one called in Gnorman’s location — Nov. 8, 2012, and again July 3, 2013. The July date is easy to understand; it was the day before Independence Day and a lot of people took off from work. As for Nov. 8, only you know what you were up to that day.
Could that be Gnorman?
There were also times when Gnorman was spotted in random photos or ads where he was not placed. That always amuses us.
For a few weeks, a housing ad was running in Tester that pictured a home with a gnome sitting in its front yard. We received numerous calls phoning in that lawn ornament as Gnorman. Sorry. Gnome, yes; Gnorman, no.
The contest has evolved a bit over the year. We changed the rules so that no one could call in before Friday morning, making it fairer to those working in buildings that don’t receive Tester delivery until late Thursday afternoon.
Also, we used to give out two movie tickets as a prize — courtesy of MWR — but Gnorman, like the rest of us, was affected by sequestration and, beginning last May, that prize was reduced to one ticket.
We plan to continue hiding Gnorman, but we’ve decided to change the rules again after listening to some of your suggestions, so check it out under the News Briefs section and familiarize yourself.
And, as you search for Gnorman, don’t forget to stop and read a few articles too.