County Marking Time in Yearlong Centennial Fete

Times Staff Writer

It has been more than 3 months since a fleet of sailing ships sailed down the Orange County coast from Seal Beach to Dana Point as part of the county’s centennial celebration.

Not too many major centennial events have happened since then but the coordinator of the centennial says the seeming lull is only temporary. And he is confident that by the spring the party will be afloat once again.

“The drawback (of a yearlong celebration) is that you cannot maintain a consistent level of awareness,” said Darrell E. Metzger, president of Orange County Centennial Inc., which has been planning the events commemorating the county’s incorporation in 1889.


“It’s difficult to develop a centennial theme for ongoing events,” he said.

Metzger, 41, has spent the past year promoting the centennial, raising funds for activities and planning for future events. He took a temporary leave from his job as vice president of Management Resources, a Tustin-based consulting firm, in order to coordinate the centennial, which began Aug. 1, 1988, and will involve more than 200 events before it concludes on Aug. 1 of this year. Currently, he is coordinating the centennial with six other paid staff members and an arsenal of more than 200 volunteers. He also gets volunteer help from planners and executives from a number of large companies.

Metzger is a veteran organizer of special events who spent 10 years with the Walt Disney Co. and helped design the organizational and operational plans for the Tokyo Disneyland. He also participated in the planning of the $1.5-billion Expo ’86 in Vancouver, as well as the hiring of 50,000 volunteer and paid workers for the 1984 Olympics.

“We chose Darrell because of his exceptional work on big projects, especially at Disneyland,” said Bob Clifford, chairman of OCCI’s board of directors and former president of AirCal. “I got a good feeling about him and his ideas as soon as I met him.”

Metzger said his new job may be even “more challenging” than what he has done before.

“I’ve worked in a number of big organizations where I’ve been responsible for all activities,” Metzger said. “The (centennial) scope is smaller, but the responsibility is tremendous.”

“If you make a couple of major mistakes on a short-term event, you don’t have time to recuperate. You don’t get a second chance,” he said.

Apparently, Metzger doesn’t need a second chance.

“The centennial has met its budget throughout,” Clifford said. “We’re doing everything that we set out to do. And, fiscally, we’re sound,” Clifford said. “Darrell’s just doing a magnificent job.”

In fact, more than $300,000 in donations from private companies has already been set aside for a scholarship fund for graduating Orange County high school students and babies born in the centennial year. That figure is expected to grow even larger with profits from special events and the sale of merchandise and publications throughout the rest of the celebration.

“We wanted the centennial to be much more than a celebration and special events,” Metzger said. “We wanted to institute programs and events that will live beyond the centennial year.”

Metzger said he has been successful coordinating the centennial so far because he can rely on the advice of experts--many of whom serve on the OCCI board--in business, art and entertainment who also are volunteers. “I’m only a phone call away from expert advice from the president of a company or the chairman of an arts organization. I’m getting expert advice that we could never afford to hire,” he said.

While many smaller events are continuing, such as art exhibits, concerts and festivals, Metzger said the centennial committee is “going to rev up” the celebration by April. The upcoming events will include a weekend jazz festival this summer with more than 25 groups and a weeklong celebration in July when the California Angels host baseball’s All-Star game in Anaheim.

All told, Metzger estimates that the year of events will cost at least $30 million. All of the money has come from individual sponsors and corporations. “We didn’t want the taxpayer to spend a dime,” Metzger said.

Metzger won’t reveal all of his plans for the centennial’s finale, but he guaranteed one thing: “People will remember how it ends.”

People columnist Herbert J. Vida is on vacation.