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Costa Mesa historian Art Goddard remembered as ‘lovable’ and ‘very bright’

Art Goddard works with photographic negatives in the archives of the Costa Mesa Historical Society.
Art Goddard, pictured here in an undated photo, works with photographic negatives in the vault of the Costa Mesa Historical Society. He passed away on Feb. 13.
(Courtesy of Mary Ellen Goddard)

How do you begin to explain Art Goddard?

His wife, Mary Ellen Goddard, considers her words carefully. He was loving, she says at first. He was smart and never tried to get attention. He liked to do things for the sake of doing them. He liked to work, even after his retirement in 2001 — because he wouldn’t have been happy sitting on his behind, she jokes. He was honest, and she knew she could always trust him.

Her husband of 55 years and a fixture of the Costa Mesa Historical Society and the Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries, Art died on Feb. 13 of complications with prostate cancer.

He would have been 79 next month. .

Art was born in Washington, D.C., but his family lived all over the country, moving to New York before settling down in Plymouth, Mass. His father was a chemist, then a lobster fisherman. As a teen, Art started catching the crustaceans alongside his father during the summer months to earn a little spending money. Around that time he also became interested in amateur ham radio, earning his license to operate in 1956.

He attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute for his undergraduate studies and received his master’s degree at Montana State University.

The couple met in Alaska. Mary Ellen had traveled up to the state with her family because of her father’s teaching job, and Art was working for the Geophysical Institute in Fairbanks. They married in 1965, a little more than a year after they met, just before Art was about to leave for a job in Thailand.

Art Goddard, left, and Mary Ellen Goddard, center, receive a proclamation.
Art Goddard, left, and Mary Ellen Goddard, center, receive a proclamation for the Costa Mesa Historical Society as their representatives from the Costa Mesa Sanitary District.
(Courtesy of Mary Ellen Goddard)

“Before he went overseas, he said, ‘Let’s get married before I go over there and you can come with me.’” Mary Ellen said, laughing softly.

They moved to Bangkok before returning to the United States to live in Montana and Iowa. They would eventually make their way to California in 1977. Costa Mesa has been their home ever since.

Their two children, Andrew and Amy Goddard, were born in 1968 and 1972 and live in Orange County.

The Goddards were well-traveled, and Art routinely went on trips around the globe to participate in ham radio competitions.

He loved taking photographs on those trips too, always joking about what they’d do with the photos now that they had them. She didn’t know what to do with them either, now that he’s gone.

He became involved with the Costa Mesa Historical Society and the Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries after Mary Ellen did. He worked with computers to help digitize records and make copies of historic photos for interested parties. Tony Dodero, a spokesman for the city of Costa Mesa, said Goddard was active in fundraising for the new library.

“They [are] the heart and soul of many very important activities in the city of Costa Mesa,” said Bob Ooten of the Goddards, who credits the two with the decorative historic decals around the utility boxes.

Art Goddard, right, visits amateur radio volunteers operating as a "field day emergency service group" in Fairview Park.
(Courtesy of Mary Ellen Goddard)

Barbara Steck, who knew the Goddards through the historical society, said Art was always there to help with any audiovisual issues, and she knew him as a kind person. Steck said she remembered him being the voice of reason and calm when she and Mary Ellen would get frustrated over the library and what was or wasn’t happening.

“He just had a very delightful sense of humor, and he adored Mary Ellen,” said Cheryl Ooten. “He absolutely just adored her.”

Ooten recalls when Mary Ellen retired from her job at UC Irvine’s libraries and began to volunteer full time. The two spent lots of time volunteering side by side, and she remembers when Art “sort of” twisted her husband Bob’s arm to step up as president of the Friends of the Costa Mesa Libraries because Mary Ellen was spread too thin.

“He was very upfront. You knew what he felt, but he was just a real leader and you listened to him,” said Cheryl Ooten, “but he was very, very lovable too.”

Art and Mary Ellen Goddard, center, are pictured at the groundbreaking.
Art and Mary Ellen Goddard, center, are pictured at the groundbreaking for the Donald Dungan Library along with officials from the city of Costa Mesa and Orange County Public Library.
(Courtesy of Mary Ellen Goddard)

Ooten said she and Mary Ellen were in the same neighborhood walking group and she remembers the group went to sing “Happy Birthday” to Art last year as a way of safely celebrating his birthday in light of the pandemic. Ooten laughed, adding that she didn’t think most men would enjoy something like that but that it seemed as if though Art really enjoyed it.

"[The Goddards] kept us, the historical society, going. He was very responsible, very bright,” Cheryl Ooten said.

“He’ll be desperately missed with all the time and effort he’s put into the [Costa Mesa] Historical Society,” offered Bob Ooten.

A memorial service will be held for Art Goddard once the pandemic restrictions lift, and it is possible to safely gather.

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