Natalie Lerner Norwick
Natalie Lerner Norwick
  • June 7, 1924 - January 21, 2017
  • Long Beach, California

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Natalie Lerner Norwick
June 7, 1924 - January 21, 2017

When she and her husband first opened their men's clothing store on the Monterey Peninsula in the 1950s and funds were tight, Natalie Norwick tapped one of her God-given gifts to earn some extra money: baking.

A native of Philadelphia and frequent traveler to New York City as a young woman, Norwick - known as Nan by her friends and relatives - was a post-War cheesecake ace. She adapted the famous New York cheesecake recipe from Lindy's deli on Manhattan's Lower East Side, and she was soon cranking out cheesecakes to sell to a local deli in Carmel, Calif.

She sold so many that she wore out her old Sunbeam mixer. In 1957 her husband, Walter, bought her an industrial-strength KitchenAid stand mixer that she used for the rest of her life. In fact, its still sits in her oldest daughter's kitchen in Northern California.

She died on Jan. 21, 2017, at Community Hospital of Long Beach, of complications from pneumonia. She was 92.

Norwick graduated from Olney High School in Philadelphia. Despite the reputation of her decadent, coveted cheesecake, she then earned a bachelor's degree in dietetic administration and a minor in chemistry at Penn State University (then Penn State College). In a time when women were discouraged from careers, let alone higher education, Norwick told her daughters and grandchildren later, she defied her father and "went away" to school - eschewing the close-to-home Temple University in favor of out-of-town Penn State - and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1945.

She followed her degree with a dietetic internship at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Ill., and then she worked as a dietician at the Jewish Hospital in Philadelphia (now Albert Einstein Medical Center).

Norwick met her longtime partner in crime, Walter L. Norwick, as a child growing up in the Logan neighborhood of Philadelphia, where her father, Jacob Lerner, was a doctor. Nan's older half-sister, Edythe, tutored Walter's older brother, Sidney, so she knew the much older Walter (eight years her senior) from early on. In the insular Philadelphia Jewish community, the pair often saw each other at celebrations and meals.

In 1947, Nan returned home from Chicago for a visit and Walter did the same from San Francisco, where he was working in men's wear at a department store. He saw that she had "grown up" (as he later recounted to their family) - and he was a goner. Her father did not approve, as Walter had suffered a rare lung disease and had had a series of surgeries and treatments.

"You are marrying a very sick man," Dr. Lerner warned his elder daughter. In timeless daughterly fashion, of course, Nan ignored her father. And thank heavens for that, said her children.

Walter and Nan, unbeknownst to their families, had arranged a rendez-vous in Manhattan, where they ate at Lindy's (natch), strolled the enchanted city streets, and shared their mutual passions for theater, dancing, music - and cocktails. It was true love. He proposed, and Walter suggested something even better:

"My father was working in San Francisco, where his older brother and sister-in-law had settled, and many of his relatives. He had a job, out of the cold - in the booming city by the Bay," said their oldest daughter, Constance Norwick, who still lives in the Bay Area. "He proposed and asked her to move to California with him. She didn't hesitate!"

With their parents' blessing, finally, the couple wed on January 25, 1948, in a simple ceremony in Philadelphia. For their honeymoon, they took a series of plane flights - standard practice in those early days of commercial aviation - stopping in snowy cities such as Denver to refuel, en route to San Francisco.

They settled in the City and soon got busy having and raising a family: first-born Constance was followed by daughters, Barbara and Naomi. In fact, the Norwicks showed a real talent for producing girls: Their three daughters produced three granddaughters before the proud, doting grandparents finally got a boy in 1983: grandson Jacob, named after Nan's father. (The aforementioned daughters and granddaughters brought sons-in-law and grandsons-in-law into the bargain, and Nan and Walter doted on and fed all of them. And poured plenty of single-malt Scotch for their growing tribe.)

Nan was born Natalie Joan Lerner in Philadelphia to Dr. Jacob Lerner and Esther Ruche Lerner, immigrants from Russia and Romania. In addition to her half-sister, Edythe, Nan had a younger sister, Mimi, and a younger brother, Robert, who remained on the East Coast and preceded her in death.

As a girl, Nan was interested in cooking, and she received much of her "early culinary education," as her nephew Steve Norwick put it, from Maude, the family's maid in Philadelphia.

"I started cooking because my mother didn't like it, and it was something that I liked to do," she said, recounting her cooking and baking history for Steve in 1996, for a family cookbook. "I would come home from school and she would say, 'I cut up some apples. Would you like to make a pie?' And I would end up making dinner. Then, mother would clean up afterward."
Steve Norwick, a geology professor at Sonoma State University who died in 2011, wrote in the cookbook's forward:

"Her sisters, cousins, daughters, nieces and nephews always considered Nan to be the best cook in the family, and the source of information on nutrition and cooking techniques. When my sister, Susan, was in high school, she was packed off to Carmel for a week to learn to bake. When my wife (Marthe Norwick), who is very shy, has a question about food, she often says, 'Why don't you call your Aunt Nan?' Nan has won numerous cooking contests . which makes us feel that she is not just a big chef