Calling stories a gift for students, scholars and the community, Cal State Fullerton’s Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History unveiled the three newest narratives that will be added to its Orange County Politics Project.
Launched in 2013, the project records the memories of those who have played an important role in shaping the political landscape of Orange County. The stories of political leaders Dick Ackerman, Wylie Aitken and the late Tom Fuentes — who were honored March 1 at the fourth annual “Celebrating the Legacy of Orange County’s Political History” event — will become part of COPH’s archive of more than 6,000 oral histories, one of the largest collections in the state of California.
“We are enriched by your stories, history will be enriched by your stories and future generations will benefit from what you have to say,” said Natalie Fousekis, the center’s director and a professor of history.
COPH, named for CSUF founding faculty member and professor emeritus of history Lawrence de Graaf, is a teaching, training, research, publication and public service archive housed in the university’s Pollak Library. Covering a wide range of people and topics, the center will celebrate its 50th anniversary this fall.
“For 50 years, the center’s collaboration with students, researchers and community members has continued to make it an important part of Orange County and beyond,” said CSUF President Fram Virjee.
“It’s thanks to the likes of Dr. de Graaf and the three leaders that we’re here to honor tonight that we’ve had a transformation at Cal State Fullerton over the last 60 years,” said Virjee. “These dedicated public servants devoted their lives to Orange County and its residents.”
Virjee also introduced the “larger than life” Ackerman, whose roles have included lawyer, California state senator, state assemblyman, city councilman, mayor and now member of CSUF’s Philanthropic Foundation Board of Governors. “Is there anything this guy doesn’t do?”
The secret to his success? “Being consistent, having a philosophy, being able to get along with people, don’t burn bridges,” said Ackerman. “We may be fighting on one issue, but next week we may be on the same side, so you want to keep that in mind.”
Aitken, a nationally recognized trial lawyer and former chair of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County, studied history at Cal State Fullerton and was a student of de Graaf. He praised COPH and pledged to continue supporting its work.
“How many of us sitting in this room wish our parents had sat down, been interviewed and told their stories so we could pass that onto the next generation and the generation after that?” said Aitken. “Politics are politics, but history and humanness and family are the most important things. That’s what this incredible program is all about.”
Fuentes, the first elected chairman of the Republican Party of Orange County, was honored posthumously. He died in 2012 after battling cancer.
Friends and family remembered Fuentes for being “a man of conviction,” with a passion for public service and exceptional fundraising skills. They shared stories about Fuentes’ expansive Rolodex for all the people he knew and his fondness for garage sales.
“When my dad was sick and we knew he had about a year left to live, one of his best friends asked him, ‘Tom, tell me where you want to go. I’ll take you any place in the world,'” recalled his son T.J., who accepted the award on his behalf.
“My dad’s response was, without any hesitation, that he wanted to take a tour of Orange County in a helicopter. He could have gone anywhere else in the world, and the one place he wanted to be was Orange County. I think that shows how special this county was to him, so thank you for honoring him tonight.”