75th Anniversary of Community & Library Services - Norman Worthy

By City Archivist Kathie Schey

As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of our Community & Library Services Department, it is important to remember those who created the parks and the recreational programming we all enjoy so much today. Many people have contributed significantly over the years, but none more than Norman Worthy, who has justifiably been called the “Father of the Huntington Beach Park System.”

A native of this community, his father, Lawrence, was one of the town’s earliest plumbers.  His mother, Amy, was a member of the pioneering Helme family.  Norm attended public schools here and graduated 1942 from Huntington Beach High School.  An outstanding athlete, he played basketball and was a member of the Lettermen’s Club.  He served as the Boys’ Sports Editor for the school’s yearbook, the Cauldron, and was active with the Hi-Y Club, which was dedicated to ethics, fair play, and moral behavior.

After graduating, he attended Fullerton Junior College for a year. At the onset of World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 and served until December 1945. Not long afterward, he met and married Shirley Elizabeth Baker. In the years that followed, Norm was proud of his growing family. He joined the First Christian Church here, where he sometimes played the piano.

His road to recreational leadership was not direct. He even worked as a portrait photographer before working in recreation in Garden Grove. On November 11, 1954, he returned to Huntington Beach as Superintendent of Recreation, replacing the department’s retiring founder, Bill Proctor. When Norman took the helm, the department was only five years old.

In its earliest years, he inherited some existing sports programs and activities like a doll show and a marble tournament. He quickly recognized the speed at which our City grew and constantly worked to expand our park system and recreational offerings. He joined Lifeguard Chief Vincent Moorhouse, advocating for surfing programs, and was a key player in creating our U.S. Surfing Championship.  Under his leadership, Murdy Community Center, the first in the City, opened in 1971. The Edison Center was dedicated two years later because of his unwavering commitment. Central Park, currently celebrating its 50th year, opened in 1974. 

Norman Worthy retired in 1979, having led the department for 25 of its 30 years of existence. During those years, 626 additional acres of parkland were added and developed into 57 park sites. Sadly, he passed away in 1983, knowing that another park would be created and named for him.

Norman L. Worthy Park, located adjacent to the high school he attended and across from the City Hall where he’d worked for many years, was dedicated on May 6, 1983. The commemorative plaque celebrates his foresight, vision, and professional standards and describes his legacy: “Citizens can enjoy a nationally recognized park system and comprehensive recreational programs.”