Mesa Musings: A man important for this mesa

January 11, 2011|By Jim Carnett

For more than half a century he's been the unofficial historian of Costa Mesa.

Henry S. Panian probably has been more "official" than "un."

Hank taught history at Orange Coast College for 34 years until his retirement in 1990.

A UC Berkeley graduate and Costa Mesa resident since 1956, Panian was my U.S. history professor in the fall of 1962, during the start of my freshman year at OCC.

"Mr. Panian" was a passionate and thoughtful professor who loved working with students.

"I'm here because I love to teach," he told a reporter in 1982. "I'm glad I don't have to become involved in the 'publish-or-perish' syndrome so typical of four-year (universities)."


The father of three and grandfather of five has been involved in a myriad of Newport-Mesa civic activities throughout the decades. Were I not to know otherwise, I might suspect that his middle initial stands for "Service."

Hank was a founding member of the Costa Mesa Historical Society in 1966 and served on its board of directors for nearly 20 years. He completed a term as president of the society, and was given its "Living Memorial Award" in 1988. He was vice-chair of the Costa Mesa Bicentennial Committee from 1974-76.

In the early years of his teaching career, Panian collaborated with two fellow OCC faculty members in establishing the school's Academic Senate. The senate remains one of the college's important institutions. In 1968, while a visiting instructor in Honolulu, he assisted the state of Hawaii in expanding its community college system. Students voted Panian OCC's most outstanding instructor in 1972.

In '76, Hank represented the city of Costa Mesa in Paris where he and his wife, Barbara, placed a wreath on the tomb of the Marquis de Lafayette. The wreath cited the Frenchman's service under George Washington and Lafayette's contributions to America's Revolutionary War effort.

In 1997, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution honored Panian for his participation in the preservation and development of local history.

Hank also served as a member of the Mesa Consolidated Water District Board of Directors for 21 years. He was named Costa Mesa's "Man of the Year" in 1981 by the Chamber of Commerce, and, in 1985, became the first OCC faculty member to be named the college's "Citizen of the Year."

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