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Apr 12
Jim Carnett
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.)

Since its founding 60 years ago this spring, Orange Coast College has been blessed with nine unique and amazing presidents. Each served an average of six years and seven months.

The longest tenured president was OCC’s third chief executive, Dr. Robert B. Moore, who labored in his post for exactly 18 years. Orange Coast’s second president, Dr. Norman E. Watson, who served just five-and-a-half months, logged the shortest tenure.

Eight of the presidents were men. One was a woman. The first five had doctorate degrees. Six were promoted to president from within the institution; three came from outside the academy. Two had previously served as presidents elsewhere; seven were first-time CEOs.

These nine individuals will be honored next Thursday evening, April 19, at OCC’s 60th Anniversary Presidents’ Program and Reception.

Dr. Basil PetersonDr. Basil H. Peterson (1947-64)

The Orange Coast Junior College District board of trustees hired founding president and district superintendent, Basil Hyrum Peterson, on July 28, 1947. He began his term Sept. 1.

A native of Huntsville, Utah, Peterson was the son of a UC Berkeley professor. Basil, himself, became a Phi Beta Kappa Berkeley grad. He earned an A.B. in science and math in 1928; a master’s in physics in 1935; and a Ph.D. in physics in 1936 – all at Berkeley. At six-feet, five inches, he played three years of varsity basketball under Bears’ coach Nibs Price, and was a Cal football player.

OCC’s founder was a teacher and coach at Piedmont High School near Berkeley, and then at Bakersfield High School and Junior College. He was a teacher/coach for nine years. In his first administrative assignment, he served as principal of Mt. Shasta Union High School. He was assistant dean for the College of Agriculture at UC Davis for two years, then left higher education during World War II to work for E.O. Lawrence, builder of the cyclotron, an accelerator of subatomic particles.

Peterson was business manager of Lawrence’s Berkeley radiation lab. He handled procurements for atomic bomb research.

Basil returned to academia in 1943 when he accepted the presidency at Glendale College. During his tenure he was president of the California Junior College Association. In 1947, Peterson assumed the role as founding president of Orange Coast College. It was his charge to build the institution from scratch, and it would become the longest – and most rewarding – assignment of his illustrious career.

One of Peterson’s first responsibilities was to secure a campus site. Headquarters for the college – during his first six months on the job – were at Newport Harbor High School. He worked in a tiny office at a borrowed desk.

Peterson carried out sensitive negotiations for Santa Ana Army Air Base property with War Assets Administration officials during the fall of 1947. He spent considerable time in Washington, D.C., working with legislators and sifting through mountains of paperwork and red tape. The 243 acres under discussion, sitting due west of the deactivated base’s “O” St. (today called Fairview Rd.), contained a vast assemblage of empty barracks buildings.

In February of 1948, Peterson and his staff – vice president James Thornton and assistant superintendent in charge of business, William F. Kimes – moved from their cramped Newport Harbor High School quarters to the new Orange Coast College campus. Peterson set up shop in what had been the Santa Ana Army Air Base’s administration building, just off “O” St.

During the spring and summer of 1948, president Peterson and vice president Thornton hired 33 faculty and several dozen staff members. The college’s budget during its initial full year of operation was $264,000.

OCC opened its doors to 515 students on Sept. 13, 1948.

“Basil was formal, exacting, almost biblical,” says Dr. Jerry Richards, who was an OCC faculty member and dean from 1958-84. “His height made him seem imperious, and he didn’t exude warmth, but he was a prince! He loved this college.”

“I think OCC is what it is today – a national leader in community college education – because of him,” says Dean Burchett, who was an Orange Coast student and athlete during the college’s first two years of operation. Burchett later became a classified employee and then a professor, counselor and coach. He spent 36 years at the college, until his retirement in 1984.

“Dr. Peterson’s legacy is forever imprinted on OCC. Thousands of wonderful and dedicated staff members have followed him here. And they’ve made an invaluable contribution to Orange Coast College’s outstanding reputation and heritage. They share in the place’s excellence.

“But it was one man – Basil H. Peterson – who set the tone from the very beginning. He was a giant of a man...and I don’t use that term lightly.”

Several years after OCC’s founding, during the 1952-53 academic year, Peterson served as chief executive officer of the American Association of Junior Colleges. Colleagues from around the country referred to him as “Mr. Junior College.” He retained that honorific title for the remainder of his life.

In the fall of 1962, OCC dedicated it’s new state-of-the-art, 2,640-seat gymnasium to its founder, the ex-Berkeley basketball star. During special ceremonies, the facility was officially christened Basil H. Peterson Gymnasium.

After creating OCC from a windswept, former military installation and nurturing it to national prominence, Peterson retired on Jan. 31, 1964.

Shortly after retiring, Basil and his wife, Winifred, moved from their Newport Heights home to Walnut Creek, near the Bay Area. The founding president returned to campus in June of 1965 to be presented with a book, written by OCC faculty and staff members in his honor. Titled “Tumbleweeds to Roses,” the book provided a comprehensive account of the founding of the college and its first 17 years of existence.

Peterson was back on campus again in June of 1975. He was honored at commencement as OCC’s “Outstanding Citizen of the Year.”

He died on June 8, 1982, at the age of 74.

Dr. Norman WatsonDr. Norman E. Watson (1964)

Norman E. Watson served the briefest tenure as OCC’s president, less than six months.

That’s because he took over for the retiring Basil Peterson on Feb. 1, 1964, and served in the dual capacity as college president and district superintendent. In July of 1964, Dr. Robert B. Moore and Dr. Dudley Boyce were named presidents of the district’s two college’s, OCC and Golden West. Watson was then upgraded from superintendent to chancellor.

During his three decades with the district, Watson served as an Orange Coast College dean, OCC president, and chancellor of the Coast Community College District. He retired in 1984. Earlier this year, Watson Hall was named in his honor.

Norm was born in Santa Ana. He received his B.A. degree in English and speech from Pomona College; his M.A. in English and education from the University of Southern California, and his doctorate in education from Stanford University.

He began his career as a high school teacher. Watson was superintendent of the Capistrano Union High School District for a number of years and joined OCC’s staff in July of 1952, at the age of 36.

At the time of his arrival on campus, Norm never dreamed that he’d end up falling in love with Coast. Thinking that it would be a one-year assignment – he planned to pursue a superintendent’s post with a large K-12 district – Watson’s relationship with Coast turned out to be a 32-year love affair.

“I became enthralled with the job,” he said. “Dr. Peterson, among other things, was a great salesman. He preached the junior college story wherever he went on campus and in the public arena. And he convinced me that the community college was the place to be.”

Watson’s first campus assignment turned out to be an eclectic array of responsibilities.

“I taught a class; took care of all the publicity for the college, did counseling, and was in charge of the evening program. I kept pretty busy.”

Twelve-hour days became the norm…no pun intended!

Several years after Watson joined OCC’s staff, he became dean of student personnel. Later, he was assistant superintendent of vocational education and campus vice president.

In 1964, Dr. Peterson surprised the Coast District’s board of trustees by announcing his retirement. He was 57.

“Pete had a couple of years remaining on his contract, but was experiencing health problems and he advised me that he was planning to retire,” Watson says. “One day, in 1964, he called me into his office and said that he was going to recommend to the board that I become the next president of the college and superintendent of the district.

“I was thrilled to take on the new challenge. It was a great moment for me.”

In the summer of 1964, Watson chose Dr. Robert B. Moore to become Orange Coast College’s president. Moore, a product of the University of Redlands and Stanford University, had spent four years at OCC as dean of instruction.

“Bob was an outstanding dean,” Watson said. “I asked him if he would be willing to serve as president. He said yes, and I went to the board and solicited its approval for his promotion.”

Watson played a central role in establishing the Coast District’s television station, KOCE, in 1971, and Coastline Community College in 1976. He was one of the nation’s first advocates for distance education. Norm served as the figurehead for the district nationally, and brought great credit and attention to the institution.

But his fondest memory of Coast may surprise you.

“One of my outstanding recollections of Coast is being the sailing team coach at OCC for two years,” he says wistfully. “During those years, we competed against four-year institutions throughout the state – up and down the coast – from Berkeley to San Diego. We were not defeated once, winning two consecutive Pacific Coast intercollegiate sailing championships.

“I remember it well because it was a very personal thing. The rapport that I had with those boys was fantastic. I remember taking the old college pickup and hauling boats to Berkeley and back, and to Santa Barbara and back. And, I remember putting the boats in the water, and pulling them off the mud, and washing them off when we got home. It stands out as a very warm and personal experience.”

Norm cherishes his many OCC memories.

“I take pride in Orange Coast College,” he says. “I’ll never forget it and shall always love it because I think it continues to be the banner institution in the United States.”

Dr. Robert MooreDr. Robert B. Moore (1964-82)

A gentle man without airs or pretensions, Bob Moore was about as far from imperious and authoritarian as is possible.

He was a Stanford graduate with a doctorate in education, and was uncomfortable with titles…even those that were honorably bestowed. He referred to himself as “Bob,” never “Doctor Moore.” Students, faculty and staff called him “Dr. Bob.” It was a comfortable appellation, and one that was delivered with affection.

He was Dr. Robert Burkland Moore…OCC’s longest serving president, and perhaps the most important man in the college’s history (though that’s a statement he most certainly would have challenged). He was the glue that held this organization together from the time it was a tiny, backwater institution, through its skyrocketing growth of the 1960s and ‘70s. He never allowed Coast to lose touch with its core values or roots.

At Bob’s retirement dinner, held at the Balboa Pavilion on Thursday, June 3, 1982, OCC’s dean of instruction, Dr. Richard W. Brightman described him as “a very modest person.”

“Bob is an innovator,” Brightman continued, “and he gets things done. He gets the best out of the people who work with him. That’s his style. His innovation permeates this institution.”

“Cool, calm and caring,” offered the president of the Coast District Board of Trustees, William Kettler. “Your style will live through the years.”

He most assuredly was cool…and his style has, indeed, washed over this place for decades. Every staff member today – whether an OCC employee during the Moore era or not – has been duly influenced by him.

The son of an Arizona State Senator, Bob was born in 1916 in sleepy Winslow, a scenic settlement that received its daily succor from Route 66. He completed his bachelor’s degree in economics at the University of Redlands, and did graduate work in history at the University of Arizona. He earned an M.A. in educational administration at Northern Arizona University, and a doctorate in educational administration at Stanford as a W.K. Kellogg Fellow.

He was a file clerk in the U.S. Senate for two years. A U.S. Naval aviator during World War II, he served as a patrol plane commander. Moore later taught history and English and was a track and field coach, at Flagstaff High School for nine years. He taught history for a year at Northern Arizona University.

Dr. Bob joined OCC’s staff in 1960 as dean of instruction. He was 43 years old. He served in that capacity for four years, then, in 1964, was named the college’s third president. He served 18 years as chief executive. During his reign, the college grew more than 10-fold.

Following his retirement at the age of 65, Dr. Bob continued to be an active member of Orange Coast College’s Foundation Board of Directors. Each spring he would come to Coast to award the Robert B. Moore Pin to student leaders at Honors Night. He loved doing that. In 1987, he was recognized as Coast’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

Bob retired to a small Southern Oregon farm with his wife, Pat. Always hale and hearty, he put in long, hard days on the farm. He died, at 86, following a brief illness in the summer of 2003.

OCC enrolled 3,500 students when Moore took over as president. Over the next 18 years the college’s population zoomed to 37,500.

Orange Coast was continually hiring new teachers to keep up with its burgeoning student population. During one year alone, Moore hired 70 new faculty members.

“We went for a number of years in succession where we had more untenured faculty members on campus than we had tenured faculty. If they’d taken a vote at that time, the new faculty would have been able to out-vote the old faculty on any issue.”

As the campus grew in student numbers, the need for new facilities became apparent.

“Here we were, using old GI buildings,” Moore recalled. “They were pretty adequate in many respects, but not very comfortable. We began tearing them down and putting up new facilities.”

Dr. Bob reflected back over his career as he and I chatted in OCC’s TV studio in 1997.

“I have to tell you, I’m a humble person when it comes to what was accomplished during my time at OCC,” he prefaced. “I just have to give full credit to a team effort in that regard. The division chairs were really a key to whatever success I was able to achieve.

“All the new facilities that were built during my tenure came about with our faculty members working directly with the architects.”

On May 15, 1982, a concert was held in the Orange Coast College Auditorium titled “A Tribute to Dr. Bob.” The concert featured a variety of performing groups. Dr. Edie Smith, an OCC music professor, wrote a piece dedicated to Moore, titled “Reluctance.” It was based on a poem by Robert Frost.

During the concert, the auditorium was officially rechristened the Robert B. Moore Theatre.

Dr. Bernard LuskinDr. Bernard J. Luskin (1982-84)

Born in Pittsburgh, Bernie Luskin grew up in Whittier. The son of Russian immigrants, he was the first in his family to gain a college education.

Luskin earned an A.A. degree in business administration at Long Beach City College. He picked up his B.A. at L.A. State, and completed an M.A. in school administration at California State University at Long Beach. He earned a doctorate in college administration, computer science and human resources development at UCLA.

Bernie taught two years at Costa Mesa High School, then, in 1963, became a business and psychology instructor at Orange Coast College.

“I thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I began teaching at Coast,” Bernie once told me. “One night I ran into the chairman of the Business Division – Charles Haley – and he lamented to me about the fact that OCC had some kind of grant to teach computers, but no one to teach the class.

“I’d been a business major in college, and had worked at a place that had a big mainframe computer. I told him I’d teach it.”

Luskin became the first community college instructor in the nation to introduce computers into his classroom. He taught OCC data processing and business courses.

“There were no data processing teachers in the country at the time, so we got a grant and ran institutes on campus to teach instructors how to teach the subject.”

Bernie began moving quickly up the ranks at OCC and the Coast District.

“They kept assigning me the ‘job-of-the-week’…I was a handyman,” he says with a laugh. “I apparently had a penchant for being able to do lots of different things, plus I had a propensity in those days for getting involved with enthusiasm.”

During his second year on campus, OCC president, Dr. Basil Peterson, made Luskin associate dean of Admissions and Records.

In 1965, Luskin was awarded a Kellogg Fellowship to attend UCLA to work on his doctorate. A short time later he was named the Coast District’s vice chancellor of Educational Planning and Development. In 1973, he played a crucial role in establishing KOCE-TV on the Golden West College campus.

Bernie became founding president of Coastline Community College in 1976, a position he held for six years.

Dr. Robert B. Moore retired as OCC’s president on June 30, 1982. Though he hadn’t been a candidate for the post – and HAD NOT applied! – Bernie Luskin was asked in the spring of ’82 to take over the presidency on July 1.

“The time that I spent at Orange Coast College proved to be the summertime of my entire life,” Bernie says today. “In the years since my departure, I’ve worked for big Fortune 500 companies, and have done a multitude of things in the business world, but my best memories and deepest affections are at Orange Coast. It’s the centerpiece of my professional life.”

During his two-year presidency, Luskin inaugurated OCC’s “Alumni Hall of Fame,” established the Sports Medicine Lab, began the weekend swap meet, upgraded the Captain’s Table, and created a bakery in the Student Center.

Nineteen days into his tenure – the third week in July – Luskin absorbed a devastating blow that came out of the blue. The State Chancellor’s Office released a “hit list” of classes that would no longer be funded by taxpayers. Bernie’s honeymoon was over almost before it began. Millions of dollars were lost by community colleges statewide, and many courses had to be cancelled. Tuition soon was imposed, and fiscal trauma raged throughout 1983 and ’84.

OCC had more than 300 classes ripped from its class schedule in the fall of 1982, and 5,000 students were displaced. During his first semester as president, Luskin had to slice $1.1 million from the college’s $27 million budget. Several sports were eliminated. The total cut for the following year, 1983-84, was $2.35 million.

“I spent a number of days with the staff going through every single line item in the budget,” Bernie told a newspaper reporter in the fall of ‘82.

In February of 1983, the Coast District Board of Trustees met in front of 1,200 people in Robert B. Moore Theatre. The trustees approved layoffs for up to 114 faculty members and administrators from the three district campuses for the 1983-84 academic year. Layoff notices had to be issued by March 15. Nearly 40 OCC full-time faculty members ended up being laid off for the year, though a dozen were brought back during the fall of ’83.

In the aftermath of the faculty layoffs, the climate on campus became decidedly tense. Luskin didn’t let that deter him. He approached the challenge head-on. He was continually out on campus, in the community and in Sacramento, working tirelessly on behalf of OCC’s students, faculty and staff.

On April 11, 1984, Bernie suddenly announced that he was stepping down as OCC’s president to take an administrative post with AACC in Washington, D.C. After 21 years with the district, his move from Coast was not an easy one.

“It is with both sorrow and elation that I leave OCC and the Coast Community College District,” I quoted him as saying in my ‘84 press release. “I will be leaving many close friends and valued colleagues. I love this district, its colleges, and what they stand for.”

Bernie went on to serve with the AACC for several years. He is considered a pioneer in digital media, digital publishing, telecommunications, and cable television network development. In recent years he has concentrated his considerable energy on distributed education, media psychology and adult learning. He is executive vice president of Fielding Graduate University.

Dr. Donald BronsardDr. Donald R. Bronsard (1985-89)

Dr. Donald R. Bronsard was Orange Coast College’s fifth president and the first “outsider” to fill the prestigious post. He served a four-year term, from July 1985 through August 1989.

He was East Coast all the way. His demeanor screamed “Northeast”…the D.C.-Philly-New York-Boston Corridor. Button-down. He could be demanding and brassy. Bronsard would occasionally raise his voice (dare I say, SHOUT?) at staff members. He smoked cigarettes (until he suffered a heart attack and dropped the habit like a guy dousing a four-alarm fire in his pompadour!).

It was my observation that he never really allowed himself to become enamored with Orange Coast College’s rich heritage and tradition. He seemed indifferent to its enchanting idiosyncrasies.

Bronsard was born a Yankee in Meriden, Conn., a stone’s throw from New Haven. Meriden was noted for its silverware and Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines. Invariably, our lives reflect our roots. Bronsard at times could be silverware stolid and Pratt & Whitney mechanical.

He received his B.S. degree in communication arts from Fordham University, the Jesuit university of New York. Bronsard was proud of his strict Jesuit upbringing. He earned an M.A. in education at Trinity College in Hartford.

Don completed his Ph.D. in professional higher education administration at the University of Connecticut. He acknowledges that he sometimes dons a “starchy collar.” The title of his doctoral dissertation was “A Development, Comparison and Contrast of Selected Faculty-Administration Consensuses Regarding Collective Bargaining Contracts in Connecticut’s Four Subsystems of Public Higher Education.”

That, in fact, was the primary strength that Bronsard brought to OCC’s presidency: a clear understanding of shared governance (a front-burner management issue in 1985). It was stated publicly, on numerous occasions, that he’d been hired to foster shared governance at OCC.

Bronsard’s first teaching assignment was as an English and speech instructor at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Conn. He also taught at Wesleyan and Northwestern universities. He served as dean of arts and sciences at Sauk Village College in Illinois; dean of instruction at Corning Community College in New York; vice president for academic affairs at Medaille College in Buffalo, N.Y.; and vice president and academic dean at Concord College in Athens, W.Va.

He was hired as OCC’s president in July of 1985, at the age of 46.

During his 39th day on the job, the new OCC president gathered the faculty and delivered his “Presidential State of the College Address” in the Forum. The room was packed. He articulated “four major institutional imperatives” that he envisioned for Orange Coast College.

The first was simple: increase enrollment. The second imperative concerned the improvement of student retention. The third proposed a concerted effort to “develop stable, continuous and predictable systems of private financial support to supplement what we receive from California’s taxpayers.” The final imperative was designed to foster a climate of shared governance on campus.

“Don understood shared governance as well as anyone I’ve ever known,” said Gene Farrell, who served as Bronsard’s VP of administrative services and later became a Coast District vice chancellor and OCC’s eighth president.

“He could explain it in terms that we all understood.”

Don left OCC’s presidency in 1989, and was replaced by David A. Grant. Among his accomplishments as president were: “reinvigoration of all major functions of the college”; enhanced effectiveness in student recruitment, retention, development of private sources of financial support, and “meaningful” systems of shared governance; increased enrollments; introduction of an Honors Program; establishment of an Alumni Association; and pursuit of external funding.

Bronsard taught for a brief time at Golden West College, and then took the presidency at Luzerne County Community College in Nanticoke, Pa. Today, at 68, Bronsard has not retired. He lives in Florida and advises doctoral students at the University of Phoenix.

David GrantDavid A. Grant (1989-95)

Dave Grant did it all at Orange Coast College.

He was an OCC student...student government leader… dean...dean...vice president...and president. For nearly 40 years, David A. Grant was the penultimate “Man of Coast.”

“It just sort of happened,” he says modestly of his long and distinguished association with the college. “I wish I could tell you that it was all planned, but, it wasn’t. OCC simply grew into the love of my life.”

Raised in Costa Mesa, Dave attended Main School, then went to Newport Harbor High. During his senior year at Newport his English instructor, Rosine Feeley, suggested that he go to OCC after graduation.

“I liked English – particularly writing and literature – and she said there were some very good English professors at Coast. I took her advice, and Orange Coast College changed my life.”

At Coast, he learned how to be a student. He discovered leadership skills; he mapped out his educational future; and, he fell in love with rowing. Grant was actively involved in student government. He served as OCC’s pep commissioner his sophomore year.

“I was able to develop a reasonably close relationship with founding president, Basil Peterson. People thought he was stiff and foreboding. He wasn’t. He was very funny, and had a wonderful sense of humor. But you quickly learned that you couldn’t argue with him. He was definitely the boss.”

Dave went out for OCC’s crew, and became a coxswain. His sailing coach was Dr. Norman E. Watson, who later became the college president, and was chancellor of the Coast Community College District. Dave transferred to UCLA, where he rowed on the crew and majored in history. After two years at Westwood, he studied for a year at the University of Stockholm.

When he returned to Southern California in 1962, at the age of 24, he had no idea what to do next. As a graduate student in history at Cal State Long Beach, he was hired by Peterson to teach history as a sabbatical replacement, and coach crew. In 1963, with the history instructor back from his sabbatical, dean of students, Joe Kroll, convinced Peterson that he could use Dave’s help in Student Services.

Grant ended up leading the Pirate crew for 38 seasons, and became one of the finest rowing coaches in America. His Coasters won more than 80 percent of their races – against the likes of UC Berkeley, UCLA, Washington, Harvard and Pennsylvania.

Dave worked as OCC’s associate dean of students in the ‘60s and early ‘70s.

“Those early days were wonderful, working with Joe Kroll and Marie Howes,” he says. Marie retired in 1969. Kroll died of a heart attack in 1975.

Following Kroll’s death, president Robert B. Moore asked Dave if he would agree to serve as dean of students. Grant loved the job.

“I had a great time,” he says. “It was fun dealing with the Associated Students, and we were able to accomplish a lot. We opened the new Health Services Building while I was dean.” Many services for students were developed and flourished under his leadership.

Grant grew closer to the man who became his mentor, Bob Moore. Moore retired in 1982. Shortly thereafter, Grant entered the only rough patch of his illustrious Orange Coast College career.

“After Dr. Donald Bronsard became president in 1985, he and I almost came to blows,” Dave says candidly. “Our relationship wasn’t working, so I quit as dean and went down to the Boat House to become director of marine programs.”

Grant remained at Newport Bay for three years.

In the summer of 1989, while mountain climbing in Kenya, Grant heard that Bronsard was leaving the college. When he returned home, Coast District chancellor, Dr. Al Fernandez, offered him the vacant position. Grant spent six years as OCC’s president, until his retirement in December of 1995.

“I must say that I had the time of my life as president,” he reflects. “I had a great staff, and we all worked hard and did a good job. It was fun, and it was creative.

“When I took over, the campus was, physically, a mess. It was also mentally disjointed. The first thing we did was to clean things up.”

Grant’s accomplishments as president are manifold. Improvements to OCC’s physical plant were particularly impressive. In addition to sprucing the place up, he mounted fund-raising campaigns that generated a total of $6.9 million for major Orange Coast projects. The money was used to remodel Robert B. Moore Theatre and the Student Center, and to build a new Children’s Center facility.

Under his guidance, OCC inaugurated its highly successful Puente Program, aimed at supporting Hispanic students; established a Transfer Opportunity Program to assist minority students in transferring to four-year universities; created a Re-Entry Center, designed to support re-entry women and men; and initiated a flourishing International Students Program, which ranks among the top 20 in the nation.

The college also formally inaugurated an acclaimed college-wide Honors Program.

“I had to battle the Academic Senate on that one,” he said. “They told me an honors program is elitist. ‘Well, yes it is,’ I conceded, ‘but that’s not a reason not to have one. Getting our students to strive for academic excellence is a good thing.’ We won that fight.”

Grant retired in December of 1995, at the age of 57. His presidency and popularity were at their peak. There were no barbarians at the gate shouting for his removal.

“The college is in very good shape,” he told the community as he prepared to step down.

Did he leave too soon?

“Perhaps,” he confesses today. “But I was fearful of overstaying my welcome. I wanted to leave while things were good.”

And things were indeed very good in December 1995.

Margaret GrattonMargaret A. Gratton (1996-02)

Margaret Gratton personified OCC.

She was the college’s seventh CEO – and first female president. Gratton regularly stepped out into the community and represented the abstract – Orange Coast College – in physical form. In carrying out her ambassadorial responsibilities as “OCC-in-the-Flesh,” she served the college with distinction and grace.

Margaret was OCC’s chief executive for six years, from July 1996 through July 2002.

One day each week she wore orange to the office. When she ventured into the community to speak, or hosted on-campus meetings or functions, she was often bedecked in a fashionable orange suit. She donned her Coast “colors” with pride. When she gave out bouquets to friends or honorees, they were frequently made up of orange and blue flowers: nasturtiums, bird-of-paradise flowers and forget-me-nots.

In the summer of 1996, Margaret was at the beginning of an enormous OCC learning curve that was to last six years. Not content with being an “outsider” who’d come to campus to govern with detached indifference, Margaret was committed to knowing Orange Coast College inside out.

Six years later, when Margaret entered retirement, she was as much a Pirate as anyone who’d ever trod these blessed acres! The deep and abiding affection that she exhibited for the place was genuine. No one could fake what Margaret Gratton demonstrated daily as she arrived early at her campus office; stayed late to attend banquets, gatherings or board sessions; hosted Foundation meetings; and attended fine arts events and athletic contests.

A native of Lewiston, Idaho, Margaret was raised in Vancouver, Wash., just across the Columbia River from Portland. She came to understand academic discipline and intellectual rigor early as a student in Catholic elementary and secondary schools. She earned B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from Oregon’s Catholic university, the University of Portland. She completed an M.S. in organization development from Pepperdine University. Margaret was gifted when it came to managing people.

She began her community college career in 1968 as a composition and literature instructor at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore. Margaret worked there for 26 years. During her final 22 years at Mt. Hood, she served in a number of administrative capacities. She was associate dean of humanities, assistant to the president and dean of instruction.

Gratton was 58 when she accepted OCC’s presidency.

To Margaret, the Mt. Hood experience – wonderful though it had been – was behind her. She almost never brought it up after arriving at Coast. She’d turned that page, and her focus now was entirely upon OCC!

Though a forward thinker, that didn’t prevent her from being fascinated with OCC’s past: its history and heritage. She spent hours during her early months researching OCC. She became a human sponge, learning and absorbing as much about the college as she possibly could.

She read “Tumbleweeds to Roses,” the 1965 book that detailed the college’s first 17 years. It sat on her desk. She read it, reread it…then read it again. She could quote chapter and verse. Margaret knew more about OCC’s early years and founding fathers and mothers than did most old salts that’d been here for decades.

She poured over ancient editions of the college yearbook and student newspaper.

In September of 2001 – the beginning of her fifth year on the job – she masterfully and compassionately guided the campus through the horror and aftermath of 911. Margaret led an emotional circle of remembrance in the quad, and eloquently articulated the loss we all felt. Stunned students and staff, with tears streaming down their faces, were comforted by her wise counsel and sincere words. Unashamedly, she wept beside us and embraced us during our shared moment of grief.

She insisted that OCC align itself with Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York City, which had been badly damaged during the attack on the World Trade Center. Coast students and staff offered emotional as well as financial assistance. A Borough of Manhattan dean visited OCC, and several of our students traveled east to meet with BMCC students on their heavily damaged but recovering campus, near Ground Zero.

Margaret announced her intention to retire on March 2, 2002. Her second three-year contract expired on July 15 that year. At 64, she was not prepared to sign on for a third three-year hitch.

While she was president, OCC’s Foundation raised nearly $18 million in cash and in-kind donations. The college began the 2002 calendar year with a $1 million gift to construct an Arts Pavilion on campus, which was completed in February of 2007. The college’s high-tech $15 million, 78,000-square-foot, state-funded Arts Center opened during her final semester.

Distance learning mushroomed. Service Learning, a program that provided thousands of OCC students with an opportunity to earn academic credits while contributing service to a variety of community agencies and organizations, was launched under her leadership.

The college’s Honors Program expanded dramatically. The Middle College High School – a collaboration between OCC and the Newport-Mesa Unified School District – designed for high-potential high school students, flourished on campus under her guidance.

Outreach and transfer initiatives increased during her six years and, in 2002, OCC became the state’s leader – out of 108 community colleges – in transferring students to California State University campuses.

The college also celebrated its 50th anniversary during her presidency.

A crowd of 300 was on hand for her retirement dinner, titled “Au Revoir, Margaret!” Her retirement sendoff – like her presidency – was handled with style.

Gene FarrellGene J. Farrell (2002-05)

Gene Farrell had been in the Coast Community College District for 31 years when he was named OCC’s president in 2002.

He was 65.

Though he certainly didn’t look or act like it, he was the oldest person ever to step into the position. Actually, he came out of retirement to accept the post. He originally retired as a Coast District vice chancellor in 2000, at 63. He retired for the second time, following his OCC assignment, in 2005 at the age of 68.

“The last time I retired – within about two weeks – I realized that I wasn’t ready to hang it up,” he said on the occasion of his second retirement. “I was too young, and had no clue as to what I wanted to do. I missed the routine of getting up in the morning and going to work. I’m a member of the ‘Guilt Generation.’ I felt guilty that I wasn’t working.

“Coming back to Orange Coast College was great therapy for me. I had a wonderful time as the college’s president.”

A community college product himself, Gene attended Compton College and was a Compton football player. He went on to play three years at California State University at Long Beach, and earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees there. He did additional post-graduate work at Long Beach, Chapman University and Cal State Fullerton.

After serving as a high school history and geography teacher, and football and wrestling coach, Gene joined the Golden West College faculty in 1969. The campus was just four years old. In addition to teaching in the physical education department, he was an assistant football, baseball and track and field coach. He was Golden West’s head wrestling coach for one season.

A feisty competitor, Farrell loved to win and hated to lose. He chiefly enjoyed tormenting GWC’s arch rival, Orange Coast College, and especially hated losing to the aforementioned Pirates! A great technician and motivator, his athletes were always fundamentally sound and prepared to play.

Farrell was the Golden West athletic director for two years, from 1980-82, and served as associate director of business services from 1982-84. He was director of business services from 1984-86. Farrell moved to Orange Coast College in 1986 as dean of administrative services. He was responsible for the coordination of all fiscal affairs on OCC’s campus.

Frankly, when Gene arrived at OCC I seriously doubted that he could adjust his allegiances. He’d been a Rustler enthusiast for so long that I felt it virtually impossible for him to become a Pirate. I figured he’d always bleed green and gold. I was wrong. After about six weeks on the job, no one would ever question Gene about his loyalties again. He’d moved into the light and become a dyed-in-the-wool Coaster!

Farrell became the Coast District’s vice chancellor of business affairs in 1988. He was responsible for budget development and management, and for facilities planning. The old football coach was a whiz when it came to preparing and managing a budget. Chancellor William Vega – and the college presidents and business managers – relied heavily on Gene’s astounding budget acumen.

He also served six months as acting vice chancellor of human resources.

After retiring for the first time in 2000 – and before he took over OCC’s presidency – Farrell worked for a year and a half as a consultant with the Ventura Community College District, and spent a year consulting with Long Beach City College. In July of 2002, with the retirement of president Margaret A. Gratton, he was asked by Coast District trustees to serve as Orange Coast College’s interim president. In March of 2003 he became permanent president.

He told trustees at that time that he desired only a two-year contract so that he could retire in March of 2005.

“I had a wonderful ride as president of Orange Coast College,” he says. “Those three years were the summit of my 34-year career at the Coast District. OCC is a fantastic place, and I had an opportunity to spend quality time with students, faculty and staff.

“Together, we developed an impressive campus master plan that is taking the college into its future.”

The master plan, developed on Farrell’s watch, contains extensive and integrated components that focus on academics, technology and campus facilities. The college is currently in the midst of a $225-million building campaign. Master plan projects, which include a new library, an Arts Pavilion, classrooms, a Fitness Complex, stadium and soccer field upgrades, and upgraded utilities, mushroomed quickly on campus – all within four years of the passage of the bond measure. And, it happened because a guy by the name of Gene Farrell has never been one to let grass grow beneath his feet!

He adroitly cajoled, counseled, motivated and praised his OCC staff members much as he’d cajoled, counseled, motivated and praised those big ‘ole hosses who played for him on Golden West College’s offensive line. Both “teams” were coached to great heights.

“I’m proud to report that Orange Coast College is in excellent fiscal shape, given the world in which it operates,” he said just days prior to walking out the back door of his office for the final time in the spring of 2005.

“Our well-being is always tied directly to the condition of the state’s economy. That economy can at times be uncertain. When things go well statewide, things on campus are robust. When the economy hits a bump, the impact on community colleges is immediate and negative. But, we have frequently been tested in the past and have learned important lessons in the process. We have never let budget woes harm our students or diminish the quality of instruction we provide.

“I leave Orange Coast College in good hands, and with a bright future ahead.”

That said, Gene Farrell spent the next several weeks on the golf course!

Robert DeesRobert V. Dees (2005-Present)

The five-member Coast Community College District Board of Trustees publicly announced at its April 6, 2005 board meeting that Robert V. Dees had been selected as Orange Coast College’s ninth president.

To that point, Bob served as an OCC faculty member and administrator for 27 years.

Prior to the board announcement, Bob had been OCC’s vice president of instruction for seven years, under the leadership of presidents Gratton and Farrell. A popular and respected vice president, Bob’s track record and performance as VP stands among the best ever tendered in the college’s history; a notable achievement considering the fact that no less than seven previous OCC vice presidents went on to serve as president here or at another institution.

As vice president, Bob was responsible for overseeing the college’s entire instructional program. He was charged with carrying out long-range instructional planning and program development, and he worked to maintain a campus environment that assisted students in achieving educational goals.

The experiences and skills that he acquired as chief instructional officer paved the way for him to become the college’s president.

During his tenure as VP, Dees emphasized campus collaboration and consensus building, and he facilitated the infusion of new technology into programs and into campus classrooms and labs.

To date, during his brief two-year Orange Coast College presidency, three new campus buildings have come online and been dedicated, including: the Watson Hall Admissions Center, the Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion and galleries, and the Fitness Complex. The new Learning Resource Center (Library) will be dedicated next spring. Bob appears destined to become the leading CEO in OCC history for opening new buildings and facilities.

A native of Pasadena, Bob earned his B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from San Jose State University. He played football for the Spartans, and was a track and field athlete.

Bob later pursued doctoral studies at UCLA. He completed a management and leadership institute at Harvard University.

Dees joined Orange Coast College’s faculty in 1978 as an instructor in English. He served as chair of the English Department for three years, from 1981-84, and was dean of OCC’s Literature and Languages Division for 14 years, from 1984-98. He served as the college’s vice president of instruction for seven years, from 1998-05.

“I am thrilled to have been selected Orange Coast College’s president,” Dees said as he accepted his new assignment in the spring of ‘05. “This is one of the nation’s finest community colleges, and I look forward to the challenge of guiding this institution into an exciting new era – an era that includes new technology and many new campus buildings.

“I’m here to promote student success.”

For a year prior to his presidential appointment, Dees played a pivotal role in developing The Learning Campus Project at OCC. The project is designed to improve and enhance student learning on campus.

“A ‘Learning Campus’ is a college that places learning first and provides educational experiences for learners anywhere, anyplace, anytime,” Bob explained. “Our faculty is very supportive of the project, and individual instructors are doing their utmost to improve and enhance curriculum at all levels.

“The college is committed to a learning-centered approach. Every institutional document is framed in terms of student learning, and we have promoted an ongoing campus dialogue on learning.”

While serving as vice president, Dees took an active leadership role in managing OCC’s accreditation process. He co-authored the college’s accreditation and mid-term reports, and took part in several accreditation site visits to other California and Hawaii community colleges. Orange Coast College recently underwent its own regularly scheduled reaffirmation of accreditation. Bob’s expertise made the task – if not enjoyable – wholly endurable.

Before joining OCC’s faculty in 1978, Dees taught English at UCLA, California State University, Northridge, Los Angeles City College and Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

From 1994-98, Dees served as a member of the statewide English Council of California Two-Year Colleges, and was the organization’s president for a year. He was also a member of the editorial board of “Teaching English in the Two-Year College,” and was a member of the State Chancellor’s Office Basic Skills Task Force.

In addition to his teaching and administrative duties, Bob is author or co-author of four nationally used college textbooks on research and writing: “Distinguishing Words: Vocabulary Development for Reading, Writing and Thinking,” “Four in One: Critical Thinking, Reading, Writing and Research,” “Writing the Modern Research Paper” and “The Resourceful Writer.”

When he took over the presidency in April of 2005, Bob was asked what his goals were for the college for “the next five years”:

“I hope to see OCC continue to be a premier academic institution,” he replied. “And when I say academic, I include vocational education as well, because our vocational programs are also academically based and equally important.

“I would like us to boost our degree and transfer rates, our vocational certificate and job placement rates, and the extent to which we attract under-represented or minority groups on the campus.

“Achieving these goals meets our mission and strengthens the college for the future.”

OCC’s future is in good hands!

Orange Slices archive button


Dear Jim:

I enjoyed your column on Jerry Richards (Orange Slices, April 5, “Dr. Jerry Richards: OCC Pioneer, Sophisticate, Dean”). You certainly captured the essence of his multidimensional personality. He had a big influence on my career at OCC and I admire him greatly. I'm glad that you were able to portray him as the warm, generous, and caring person that he is, along with acknowledging many of his accomplishments.

Jerry is one of the "classiest" people I have ever met.

Thanks for the good work.

Carol Grams
OCC Professor of Psychology Emeritus (1968-03)

Bernard LuskinDear Jim:

Your exceptional profile of Jerry Richards (Orange Slices, April 5, “Dr. Jerry Richards: OCC Pioneer, Sophisticate, Dean”) is beyond insightful. You captured the highlights of his life, and also the sensitive and sometimes tragic parts. It is hard to believe that Jerry was my high school teacher, and that I was yours. What a chain of events; tied together by OCC.

Jerry was one of the very first Kellogg Fellows to receive a fellowship to UCLA. During the ‘60s the Kellogg Foundation supported more than 450 Kellogg Fellows in 12 University community college programs. Many of the fellows became college presidents. Others pioneered other areas of the community college. Jerry was one of the first. He is responsible for much of the bridge that was built between the California community colleges and the University of California. Jerry is a true pioneer.

He was dean of counseling when I was president of Orange Coast College. Dave Grant was Dean of Students. You were the director of communications.

What a team, and what great memories!

You reported on the difficulties experienced at OCC following Proposition 13. OCC was the most affected college in California. At that time, OCC was the largest single campus community college in California and the most diverse. OCC personified the vision of the community college in America, and it is the picture of that vision today.

So many leaders learned their craft at OCC. What a great place. Knowing Jerry Richards, Dave Grant, you and so many others is a treasure with value beyond measurement. Jerry Richards is a one-of-a-kind person. He is one of the great gentlemen of our time.

Dr. Bernard J. Luskin
OCC President Emeritus (1982-84)