Norma Jean Hongisto on Mother’s Day in 2022. Courtesy: Family of Norma Hongisto

On the evening of December 29, 2022, Norma Jean Hongisto passed away at Belmont Village Senior Living in Albany at the age of 95.  

She was the daughter of Daniel E. and Mabel (Schadt) Cole and was born and raised in Spencer, Iowa. From a young age, Norma was an aspiring artist, and earned her bachelor’s degree in Fine Art at the University of Iowa. After graduation, she began her life journey exploring the world, with an ongoing love for, and focus on, art. Norma lived in Chicago, New York and Houston, and settled in San Francisco, where she pursued a teaching credential. She met her future husband, Don, at San Francisco State University, and they married on Valentine’s Day in 1959.

Norma and Don moved to Berkeley in 1963, where they raised their three children. Together they explored art and the humanities in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. They later traveled in Asia, Latin America and Africa, but visited Spain the most, as it became home to their son, Eric. Although they lived a year in London, England, and later in Quincy, California, Norma always considered Berkeley her home.

She was an active member of the community, where she led children at the Tilden Camp Fire Day Camp, worked at the voting polls on Grizzly Peak Boulevard, and danced in Gil Chun’s shows at the Berkeley Senior Center. Norma and Don could frequently be seen taking in Shakespeare, Berkeley Rep and Cal Performances, or attending art exhibits, especially if they featured the masters. 

Her passport photo from 1956. Courtesy: Family of Norma Hongisto

Throughout her life, Norma fully devoted herself to her many passions. She designed and maintained beautiful gardens filled with fruit trees, succulents, flowers, and herbs. She then brought the fruits of her garden into her kitchen; Norma was a very talented and diverse cook and baker – mastering Julia Child recipes and techniques, and later cuisines from around the world. She filled her table with delicious meals and her home with her artwork. Her early artistic years included sketching, acrylics, and pottery. In later years, she focused on watercolor as a medium. She was a lifelong swimmer and avid tap dancer, as well as an animal and music lover.  Of all her passions, she dearly loved being a wife, mother and grandmother.

She will be greatly missed by her husband of 63 years, Don; three children Sonja (Brent), Eric, and Kirsten; and five grandchildren, Kelsey, Evan, Kate, Claudia, and Mark.  Norma was predeceased by her brothers, Dale and Russell.

Her family is currently planning a celebration of Norma’s life, including a display of her beautiful artwork.  In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Berkeley Humane Society, Alzheimer’s Association, or a local art organization.  

An oil painting Hongisto made in 1979.