By Jim Carnett
(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 36th year as Director of Community Relations, he is editor of Coast-to-Coast. This is a regular column that focuses on OCC’s history and distinctive characteristics and characters.)
Phil Riddick, an Orange Coast College computer support technician for the past 32 years, who’ll retire July 30, had his first brush with the college’s campus 64 years ago – in 1943.
How could that happen, you ask, because the college is just now celebrating its 60th anniversary? Permit me to explain.
Riddick, the son of a community college professor and administrator, first visited OCC’s campus as a three-year-old – half-a-decade before Orange Coast College opened its doors to students. It wasn’t a college campus at the time...though it was a campus of sorts. What would become OCC’s property then comprised 20 percent of the Santa Ana Army Air Base, a preflight training school for U.S. Army Air Corps cadets. The base was situated on the barren mesa above the established Orange County communities of Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. It was carved from vacant land and bean fields.
Riddick’s father left his post as a professor at Santa Monica College in 1942 to join the Army. He was assigned to the Santa Ana Army Air Base for two years as a geography and map-reading instructor. He taught in the base’s austere wooden barracks classrooms.
The air base was open from 1942-45. During its two-and-a-half years of intense activity, it trained more than 150,000 aviation cadets.
“I flew many times over the base during the war,” says Ray Rosso, a charter OCC faculty member, and the college’s first football coach. “I was a Navy pilot stationed at Los Alamitos. I remember seeing all those cadets drilling on the parade ground. I was amazed at how many Army Air Corps cadets were going through the Santa Ana Army Air Base program. It was quite an impressive operation!
“It seemed that every time I flew over the base there were more buildings. It grew by the week.”
There were more than 800 buildings on the base before it was deactivated.
Riddick and his parents lived in Santa Monica when his father joined the Army in ‘42.
“My dad was commissioned a first lieutenant and was sent to Orange County later that year, not long after the air base opened.”
Phil’s grandparents happened to own a beach house on the Balboa peninsula.
“We moved into the house in Newport and remained there for two years until my dad was sent to New Guinea in 1944,” Phil recalls. “My mother and I then returned to Santa Monica. My dad came home from the war in early 1946. He was suffering from jungle rot, which he’d contracted in the tropics, and was covered from head to toe with a rash and terrible sores. I was six at the time, and was scared to death of him because of the way he looked. He eventually fully recovered.”
Though quite young at the time that he lived in Newport Beach, Phil still has distinct memories of his Santa Ana Army Air Base experience.
“Living in Newport was a wonderful thing for a three-year-old in 1943,” he says. “I remember the beach very well, and I also have memories of the air base itself.
“I recall driving past the base’s main entrance, which was located on Newport Blvd. across the street from the Santa Ana Country Club. I used to be fascinated by the large poles at the entrance, and the propeller that was hanging from one of the poles over the entrance gate.”
Riddick spent a week on the base in 1943. He was a patient at the post hospital.
“I remember that experience rather clearly because I was pretty scared,” he says with a laugh.
Phil’s parents would have been amazed in ‘43 to have known that 32 years later their little boy, undergoing the double hernia operation, would return to the site and spend the next 32 years of his career there.
The property that once housed the Santa Ana Army Air Base has since become home to a variety of entities, including the Orange County Fairgrounds, Vanguard University, Costa Mesa High School, the Costa Mesa City Hall and Police Department complex, residential homes and apartments, and, of course, the Orange Coast College campus. Sixty-four years later, Riddick is still associated with that piece of real estate.
“I remember the base hospital as being a very large wooden building,” he says. “It had enormous hallways, or so they seemed. There were some distinctive covered corridors at the entrance to the hospital as well. Before my surgery, my parents drove me through the base entrance that I loved so much, and up to the front door of the hospital. I was very frightened.
“A military hospital, particularly in 1943, wasn’t a gentle place for a small child. I remember that the doctors seemed rather gruff, but the nurses were nice. I had to stay in bed for several days. They wouldn’t let me get up and play.”
Phil’s father relocated to Santa Monica after the war in 1946, and life returned to normal in the Riddick household.
The mesa above Newport Beach and Huntington Beach was forever changed, however. Many servicemen stationed at Santa Ana Army Air Base during the war had become enamored with the base’s locale and its delightful, and temperate, climate. A rush of émigrés from throughout the nation flooded the area after the war. The town of Costa Mesa was officially established in 1955.
The base itself was deactivated in 1946. A local citizens’ group, called the Orange County Coast Association, re-initiated a campaign – originally begun before the attack on Pearl Harbor – to establish a community college on Orange County’s coast.
Orange Coast College was founded on Jan. 27, 1947, when voters expressed their wishes at the polls. A local board of trustees was elected several months later, and trustees hired OCC’s first president, Dr. Basil H. Peterson, on July 28, 1947. After months of negotiating, Peterson secured 243 acres of Santa Ana Army Air Base property from the War Assets Administration in Washington, D.C. in December of 1947, and the college took possession of the land and 68 buildings in February of 1948 (many buildings at the base, between 1946-48, had been moved off the property by such agencies as USC, El Camino College and Santa Ana College). The air base property was acquired by OCC for $1.
Orange Coast College opened its first classes on Monday, Sept. 13, 1948. Phil was eight years old. In the meantime, his father earned a doctorate from the University of Southern California after the war, and served as a Santa Monica College dean for 22 years, until his retirement in 1970.
“Dad watched with keen interest from his post at Santa Monica as OCC developed,” Phil says. “He knew founding president Peterson, and thought very highly of him. He also knew the college’s third president, Dr. Bob Moore, who came aboard in the early 1960s. He and Dr. Moore were quite good friends. My dad visited the campus on many occasions.”
The college later hired Phil during Moore’s presidency. Moore possessed a special affection for Phil because Riddick is an organist (more about that later). Moore had earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Redlands, was a music lover, and, while a student, was exposed to the majestic sounds of the beautiful pipe organ on the Redlands campus.
“It’s the best symphonic organ in the nation, and was installed on the Redlands campus in 1928,” Phil says. “It’s also located in one of the best sounding buildings in the country. As a result of that exposure, Dr. Bob fell in love with organ music.”
Phil says his father always had a strong interest in the development of OCC.
“He was very interested in what was going on at Orange Coast – and the surrounding area – because of the time he’d spent at the air base. He returned to the campus many times in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s to attend air base reunions. Many of the former cadets remembered him because he’d been their teacher.”
Phil graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1958. He then earned an A.A. degree at Santa Monica College, and spent a year at the University of Redlands. He graduated from California State University at Long Beach with a degree in technology.
Riddick’s first job was as an electronic and audio-visual technician at UCLA. He remained there for six years. He then moved to Orange County with his wife, Glenda, when she took a teaching post at OCC. Glenda taught in Orange Coast’s Clothing and Textiles Department.
“I was hired to run the audio-visual department at UC Irvine, and did so for four years,” he says. He then worked for a large commercial sound contractor in Orange County, and with the Anaheim Union High School District. He joined OCC’s staff as a sound technician in the fall of 1975.
“Orange Coast College’s Audio-Visual Department was looking for a technician with both a digital and computer background, so they hired me,” he says. “It was a homecoming of sorts. When I came to the campus for my first day on the job, I had the distinct feeling that I was returning to a place that had played an important role in my heritage. I have loved being here for the past 32 years.”
During Phil’s first two years on campus he was assigned full-time to the Fine Arts Division. He worked under Paul Cox, division dean.
“I loved working for Paul,” Phil says. “He was a musician…and I was a musician. We got along very well.”
Within his first two weeks on the job, Phil had to try to make the “new” audio-visual system in Fine Arts Hall 119 and Fine Arts Hall 116 – which had been installed that summer – work. It had been miss-configured and miss-wired.
“Every hot or dry day during the fall semester the control system in both halls would go crazy and the curtains would open and close, the lights would go up and down, and the projectors would start and stop – all on their own. It made for an impossible teaching situation.”
During the winter break, Phil “hard-wired” the whole system so that the components would not, without warning, start performing on their own.
Phil did sound for all concerts in the Robert B. Moore Theatre, and was responsible for audio/video needs in the two Drama Labs, the two Fine Arts Halls and the Art Building. He also recorded OCC Symphony, Chorale and Chamber Singers concerts.
“My first year on staff I played tympani and string bass in Joe Pearlman’s Symphony Orchestra,” he says. “There were other staff members in the orchestra as well, like vice president of instruction, Rich Brightman, who played bassoon. Rich’s wife played oboe. It was a wonderful orchestra.”
He left the symphony after his first year, however.
“Too many fine arts staff members came to me during rehearsals looking for audio-visual help. That really made Joe Pearlman angry…and he had quite a temper! I tried to brush off the requests, but I seemed to cause a big distraction at rehearsals.”
Phil remembers a time in the late 1970s when there was a tiny student radio station housed in the Fine Arts Building.
“Pete Scarpello, a broadcasting instructor, was advisor to the station. It was very small, less than one watt, and didn’t carry beyond the perimeter of the campus. Well, a couple of students got hold of an FM booster and upped the station’s wattage to more than 100. Local citizens began to complain because of the interference they were receiving. The FCC raided the station and confiscated the booster.”
Shortly thereafter, the district closed the station down.
Riddick has installed audio-visual and sound systems throughout the campus, in classrooms, labs and lecture halls. He designed a new public address system for LeBard Stadium. Today, he is an information systems technician and works in computer support for the campus, and is still in charge of sound reinforcement.
For many years, Phil handled the sound at OCC’s commencement exercises, held in LeBard Stadium. He was a regular member of the Commencement Committee.
“That was always a stressful job,” he says. He had his mixing board in the stadium press box, nearly a hundred yards removed from the commencement platform.
“I remember one year we had a speaker who was supposed to talk for five minutes, but who went on for nearly half-an-hour. I came very close to shutting down his microphone. Fortunately, someone on the platform walked up to the speaker and gently asked him to bring his comments to a close.”
During another ceremony, the sound went out completely midway through the program.
“That was perhaps my most stressful moment at OCC,” Phil says with a smile. “The orchestra had just finished playing its final number. One of my assistants began to unplug the orchestra’s equipment, but accidentally pulled out all the plugs on a monitor-amplifier. He didn’t realize what he’d done. The sound went out.”
Riddick could be seen waving his arms frantically in the press box. With the sound off, everyone on the platform looked helplessly to the press box. All eyes were on Phil. He had no way of communicating with the field short of hand or smoke signals.
“I sent my student assistant flying out of the press box and down the stadium stairs onto the field. He plugged the amplifier back in and, thank goodness, we had sound.”
During his OCC tenure Phil also handled the sound at several Fourth of July celebrations in LeBard Stadium, and for a series of Sunday afternoon summer classical music concerts in the quad.
“The concerts featured OCC’s Symphony and they were fantastic,” he says. “Joe Pearlman was directing the orchestra on the steps of the Robert B. Moore Theatre. Five thousand people picnicked in the quad. The sun was beating down and the perspiration was rolling off Joe’s brow but it was all spectacular. I always enjoyed working with Joe.”
Now married to his second wife, Debbie, Phil has four grown children and a grandson. He and Debbie live in Irvine.
The OCC information systems technician isn’t just a one-dimensional techie, however. There’s a rather profound artistic side to his personality as well. He’s been a professional church organist for more than 40 years. He minored in classical organ in college.
Three years ago Phil retired from his last organist position. He was organist for 10 years at the Costa Mesa Methodist Church on 19th Street. He helped to install the church’s large pipe organ many years ago. He was also an organist for 10 years at the Irvine First Christian Church, and he served at Laguna Niguel Presbyterian. Most recently he served at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, and spent a year as assistant organist at St. Andrews Presbyterian in Newport Beach.
“I played in churches for decades and loved it,” he says, “but I decided three years ago to cut back. I plan to fill in at several churches after I retire, but nothing permanent. I also plan to do some recitals and special concerts.”
Also in recent years, Phil has worked as an organ tonal consultant at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Hills. He helped to install the Geneva Presbyterian organ, which is the second largest combination pipe and digital organ in Orange County. He was also the church’s audio-video and computer manager, and served as the congregation’s number two organist.
Last year he installed a pipe organ console at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara. Twenty years ago he built and installed the console for the pipe organ at First Christian Church in Irvine.
“Music as well as organ consulting are big things in my life,” Phil says. “I plan to do a lot of both when I’m retired.”
Active in the Orange County chapter of the American Guild of Organists, Riddick served as the chapter’s dean from 1982-84, and will assume that same position again next fall, serving through 2009.
Now 67, Phil will retire on Monday, July 30.
“This has been a wonderful place to work,” he says. “The students, teachers and staff are fantastic. This college is a close-knit family. I often find myself wishing that I’d attended Orange Coast College as a student back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s truly an amazing place.”
In recent years, he’s been somewhat conflicted about retiring.
“I wasn’t emotionally ready to leave,” he admits. “I love it here. I honestly thought I would stay until I was 70. Then, a few months ago, I learned that I could actually earn more money being retired than working. That settled it for me. Now I’m prepared to go.”
In addition to his church and organ work, Phil plans to spend some of his retirement playing an upright bass in both a country-western band and with a jazz group. He’ll also be a member of the Rowdies at Geneva Presbyterian Church. The Rowdies are a group of retired men – ex lawyers, bankers, career military officers, etc. – who spend Monday mornings doing carpentry work, painting, gardening and general maintenance around the church.
“They’re an energetic group and have lots of fun. They always go to lunch after finishing their assignments. I look forward to joining them.”
Phil Riddick has sunk his OCC roots about as deeply as one can. He planted the seeds 64 years ago as a three-year-old facing double hernia surgery in an imposing – and frightening – military hospital. Today those roots extend throughout Orange Coast College’s campus, and into the surrounding community!
He’s a true Coast Classic!
WE GET LETTERS….
So I'm reading this week’s (May 3) installment of Coast to Coast only to find out that I'm one of Coast's "Dedicated Professionals," and am one of a "stellar group" that included Dr. Jack Scott and Dr. Art Martinez (“Three Dedicated Coast Professionals,” Orange Slices, May 3)! Wow – thanks for the compliment! Now, if only I looked like that picture! It's got to be at least 20 years old – a few pounds and a few gray hairs ago!
It seems like only yesterday that you were interviewing me for my departure from OCC, and it's been 14 years already! As the old saying goes, "Time flies when you're having fun," and I have been having fun! I've traveled to parts of the good ole' U.S. of A., Mexico, Central America, Canada and just last year spent three wonderful weeks in my "motherland," visiting Rome, Florence and Venice! I think Italy was the best trip of all! I'm attaching a picture of me having lunch at a villa outside of Florence...ahhhh, wine, food and the beauty of Tuscany as a backdrop – it doesn't get much better than that!
I've been a huge Phoenix Suns fan for the past couple of years, and watched every single game they played this season – all 82 of 'em! As I write this we're celebrating our first round playoff victory over the Lakers. It would be sweet to bring that NBA Championship home to Phoenix this year!
I'll be in California for a week this summer (August), so I'll drop by the campus to (hopefully) see you, and all the changes, too.
| ||Best regards, |
OCC Staff Member (1968-93)
Thoroughly enjoyed your May 3 Coast to Coast.
The article on Jack Scott (“Three Dedicated Coast Professionals,” Orange Slices, May 3) evoked many great memories, except for the death of his son, Adam. Our daughter, Loren, now a missionary in Uganda, dated Adam while at Mesa. They were in the same class and ran with the same crowd.
Two items caught my special attention. One was the reference to the Architecture competition at San Luis Obispo. The article refers to the OCC construction of a "yurt," a domicile of "Mongols in Siberia". The use of such a facility is usually associated with Mongolian Gobi herders: they labeled it a "ger." When the Russians occupied Mongolia during the Cold War, they forced the Mongolians to rename the structure to "yurt." Mongolia, since the Russians withdrew, brought back the original term. Barbara and I enjoyed the excitement of sleeping two nights on the Gobi Desert in a "ger" during a 1996 trip there and Siberia. Maybe the Mongols in Siberia still use the word, "yurt" but they are not large in numbers.
The second involves the obituary of Norm Lumian. Part of his contribution to OCC stems from the fact that he was the first president of the Academic Senate. It was a tough time to fill that role: many of the faculty in those early days and all the administration refused to accept the legitimacy of the Senate then. Norm had the toughness to handle that situation. How times have changed – for the better.
Again, thanks for the news and memories.
| ||Hank Panian |
OCC History Professor (1956-90)