Obituary: Norma Hertzog, Costa Mesa’s first woman mayor, dies at 94

Mayor's award recipient Norma Hertzog speaks at the Costa Mesa mayor's dinner in May 2014.
Mayor’s award recipient Norma Hertzog speaks during the second annual Costa Mesa mayor’s dinner at the Samueli Theater in Costa Mesa in May 2014. Hertzog was the first female mayor for the city of Costa Mesa. She died this month at her home in New Jersey at the age of 94.
(File Photo)

Costa Mesa’s first woman council member and mayor, Norma Hertzog, died Aug. 21 at her home in New Jersey, according Mayor John Stephens, who announced her death in a news release issued Thursday. Hertzog was 94.

Hertzog came to California from Canada in 1951 and became a U.S. citizen in 1960, the same year she moved with her family to Costa Mesa. Two years later, Hertzog, who gained experience teaching preschool in Canada and in Pacific Palisades, established Costa Mesa’s Mesa Verde Preschool. She also owned West Bay Preschool in the city.

She was first elected to the Costa Mesa City Council in 1974. She recalled she had been prompted to run because, in her view, the city lacked social services.


“There simply weren’t any social programs in the city ... and I wanted to change that,” she said in a July 1985 interview with the Los Angeles Times, noting that since she was first seated on the council the city had established two dozen “very active programs for people of all ages, from teens to senior citizens.”

Hertzog maintained “she never purposely set out to accomplish any firsts,” according to The Times article. But, as the story points out, when she was a teenager in Canada she was the first female member of the YMCA in that country.

“And, in another first of a sort, she was the first woman in Southern California to undergo ‘tummy tuck’ type reconstructive breast surgery following a [1981] mastectomy,” reported Times writer Ken Estes.

After that surgery Hertzog, according to Estes’ profile of her, was featured in national publications and on television, appearances that led her into speaking engagements and counseling others who faced breast cancer.

“The publicity I received resulted in letters from women all over the country, and it was extremely gratifying to me to be able to help and reassure them,” Hertzog told Estes. “There is nothing so devastating to a woman as losing a breast. Our femininity is threatened. Reconstructive surgery can help overcome the trauma. My surgery helped me become whole again and I wanted to share that.”

In the fall of 1982, one of the years Hertzog was seeking reelection to the City Council, a Times reporter interviewing her noted the race seemed to be without any controversy and was even unusually friendly in nature.

“That’s not an accident,” Hertzog, then 53, said. “It’s because we have good government in Costa Mesa. We can disagree without being disagreeable.”

According to city officials, Hertzog spearheaded the move to bring South Coast Repertory theater to Costa Mesa, and the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center soon followed.

“Costa Mesa needed something,” Hertzog said later. “Costa Mesa had nothing. It was a kind of a meat-and-potato town. You’d just go right through it, and you’d never know you’d been there. We needed something to make it special.”

Her last term of office as a member of the City Council ended in 1986. In 2014 she was honored with the annual Costa Mesa Mayor’s Award.

“I won my [1974] City Council race, much to the chagrin of the city,” Hertzog recalled in her speech while receiving the award. “The City Hall vibrated for weeks because I was the first woman. The men on the council were not too happy, were they, Jack?” she joshed former Mayor Jack Hammett.

Almost two years after it was first proposed by now county Supervisor Katrina Foley, who was then a member of the City Council, the panel in December 2019 gave approval to naming the community center at Lions Park after Hertzog. By that time, Hertzog was residing in an assisted living facility in New Jersey.

“In July of 2021, I was honored to participate in the unveiling of the Norma Hertzog Community Center, which along with the remodeled Lions Park Playground (Airplane Park), marked the final chapter on a $36.5 million, world-class campus that is now the jewel of Costa Mesa’s Westside,” Stephens said in his news release announcing Hertzog’s passing. “Through the Norma Hertzog Community Center, Norma will be remembered in Costa Mesa for generations to come.

“We send our deepest condolences to her family and we are all going to miss her dedication to public service, her great smile and sense of humor,” Stephens said. “Thank you, Norma, for all you did for Costa Mesa and may you rest in peace.”

Hertzog was divorced from her first husband, Roger Hertzog, in 1977 after 24 years of marriage. They had four children, Susan, John, Elaine and Carolyn. Her second husband was Charley Wagner. Preceded in death by her two eldest children, she is survived by daughters Elaine Burkert of Dumont, N.J. and Carolyn Fetters of Palm Desert.