Mesa Musings: A man important for this mesa


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.”

Hank recently published a digital book that takes place in Costa Mesa. Titled “The Cymerian Chapter,” the book doesn’t fit the stereotypical “product” generated by a serious academic. Not a textbook or historical tome, Panian has crafted a lively and riveting read for youngsters as well as mature audiences.

That’s not to say Panian’s sci-fi book doesn’t deliver an important educational message. It does!

The Costa Mesa Historical Society will host a presentation and book signing by Panian at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23. Softback and hardback copies will be available. The Historical Society is located at 1870 Anaheim Ave.

In “The Cymerian Chapter,” Cymeria is a dark and polluted world situated in a galaxy far, far away. Anvillians, a race “of highly intelligent beings,” created Cymeria some 5,000 years ago, and machines are its only inhabitants. During an exploratory mission one of the planet’s tiny probes, XL-122, is thrown off course by a solar storm. The probe crashes into 11-year-old John Couper’s Costa Mesa bedroom.

Panian’s engaging tale is about the partnership that develops between the boy and XL-122. Together, John and the robot investigate the Earth’s ecosystem, organisms and level of science.

“(My) book blends history, science, technology, ecology and education,” Panian said. “It focuses on two challenges facing inhabitants of the 21st century: the fanaticism of children with computers and video games; and the need for the Earth to continue to be green and clean.”

The book makes the point that computers should be tools of learning rather than an “end” in themselves. In 2001, Panian co-founded “Youth Achievers,” a local tutoring program for middle schoolers who were failing school or in danger of dropping out. While working with youngsters he observed the mesmerized behavior they can exhibit with computer games. His book addresses that issue.

Here’s wishing “Mr. Panian” the best in his new endeavor!

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.