Notable Passings: Fond farewell to community members

The past 10 years have seen massive growth in Newport-Mesa, but they also have seen the deaths of some of the area’s biggest names.

From firebrands to sparkling stars, each made their mark on the local scene.

Here are a few.

THEY ENTERTAINED US

JOEY BISHOP, 89

Consummate host, comedian and local legend Joey Bishop died in October 2007 at his Lido Isle home.

Bishop was the last surviving Rat Packer; his death signaled the conclusion of a feted age of martinis and dice. He emceed President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball, and was the most frequent guest on the Johnny Carson show. But he was thought to be the most upright Rat Pack member, who worked to raise money for children through numerous charities.

Locally, Bishop was beloved for his frequent parties and even more frequent smiles. He was heavily involved with the Balboa Bay Club, and always sought to make the people in his life laugh.

Bishop was as committed to his spirituality as his jokes, and had a close relationship with local Rabbi Reuven Mintz of Chabad Jewish Center.

CHUCK JONES, 89

One of the local residents who gave the most to the entire world was legendary animator Chuck Jones, who helped create some of the most memorable cartoon characters — including a certain wascally wabbit.

Longtime Corona del Mar resident Jones died of natural causes in 2002, after a lifetime spent creating and animating characters from Bugs Bunny to Tom and Jerry, and giving life to the Grinch who stole Christmas.

His career began with one of Walt Disney’s own animators in the 1930s, and he moved on to a company that was bought by Warner Bros. later in the decade. He became one of the studio’s most prolific animators in the coming decades, during the “golden age” of cartoons.

Jones’ name is splashed on countless cartoon credits, along with other greats like Tex Avery.

CLAIRE TREVOR BREN, 90

Far from only being one of the area’s best-known arts patrons and educators, Claire Trevor Bren also garnered an Academy Award for her role in the 1948 film “Key Largo.” She also was known for appearances in movies like “Stagecoach,” “Johnny Angel” and “Murder My Sweet.”

Her last name instantly associates her with Donald Bren and the world of Orange County development; she was the stepmother of the Irvine Co. chairman, who remembered her fondly following her death. Trevor Bren had donated $500,000 in a naming grant for a UC Irvine theater; following her death in 2004, the university named its entire arts school after her.

She was known for working intensively with young actors at the school, and was highly involved in its development. She also was a noted painter.

THEY NURTURED US

MERLE HATLEBERG, 83

One local woman is remembered for the joy she felt in feeding the masses.

Through her Someone Cares Soup Kitchen, Merle Hatleberg continued a legacy founded by her mother at a West Virginia boarding house, where coal miners were given sack lunches.

Before opening the soup kitchen, Hatleberg managed a senior meal program at a Costa Mesa community center. When she saw that children also were hungry, she began to feed them as well — until she was told to stop.

Hatleberg chose to open up her own storefront instead, where anyone who came in would be offered a hot meal. She fed the homeless, the working poor, the elderly and the mentally ill alike.

She also managed the distribution of food throughout the county during emergencies for the Red Cross — and never stopped her efforts, despite surviving cancer, undergoing five knee surgeries and losing her hearing. She died in 2007.

CARL DIEDRICH, 86

German-born Carl Diedrich brought his love of coffee to Orange County, and Orange County happily began congregating at the stable of coffee shops his family founded.

Like many giants of the technological industry, Diedrich began operations in a single-car garage on South Bristol Street, following many transcontinental years.

Unfulfilled by his career as an instructor and marine biologist, Diedrich moved his family to Guatemala and acquired a 45-acre coffee plantation with several partners. His five sons were immersed in the new experience before the family came to Southern California with premium beans and a roaster of Diedrich’s own invention, and started what became a coffee empire.

Diedrich died in 2001. His son Martin Diedrich now continues the legacy, trading the many locations for two shops with a focus on quality: He now runs Kean Coffee in Newport Beach and Tustin.

ORAL ROBERTS, 91

A controversial pioneer of the televangelism medium, Oral Roberts retired and moved to a country club in Newport Beach, where he remained until his death this December.

Oklahoma native Roberts began by preaching in the Pentecostal and Charismatic styles, then introduced faith-based healing and the concept of the prosperity doctrine to the masses through televised services and fundraising campaigns. He also founded Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, which teaches in the Charismatic tradition.

The illness and death of his wife, Evelyn, in 2005 was a tremendous blow to Roberts, friends said. Previously, he lost one child to an airplane crash and another to suicide.

Upon moving to Newport Beach, Roberts continued in his Biblical study, consulting local rabbis and making friends with area pastors. He also enjoyed golf.

THEY REPRESENTED US

ROBERT BADHAM, 76

Balboa Island resident Robert E. Badham represented the area in state and federal government. During his tenure, he worked to protect marine life and natural resources at both levels of government.

Badham was a state assemblyman from 1963 to 1977, at which time he became a federal congressman; his last term ended in 1989. The fiscal conservative focused on protecting natural resources like tidepools. The Robert E. Badham State Marine Park in Little Corona was named after him, as a 70th birthday present from his daughter.

Badham was remembered for his happy outlook and strong family life; he raised five children for more than 30 years in a blended family with his wife, Anne Badham.

Upon his retirement, he became a member of the Newport Beach civil service board. He died in 2005; his term was to expire in 2006.

JAMES ‘JAY’ STODDARD, 90

Former Newport Beach mayor and longtime Corona del Mar resident Jay Stoddard was at the helm during one of its largest periods of growth.

The Caltech graduate lived in the area for more than 50 years, and spent 10 years on the Newport Beach City Council in the 1950s and 60s, including several stints as mayor.

He had a background in the petroleum industry, both domestically and in the Middle East.

Stoddard was remembered for his work during the 1956/57 water shortage, when he moved the Big Canyon Reservoir through in record time. The project required a bond issue in addition to design and construction.

Shelton also had permanent concession structures installed on Corona del Mar Main Beach during his tenure, and developed a lifeguard rescue boat model that is still in use. His City Council pushed for the city’s first ocean rescue vehicle.

The chemical engineer was married to his wife, Florence, for 63 years, and had a son and granddaughter. He died in 2003.

JOHN SCHMITZ, 70

Ultraconservative politician John Schmitz was known for his colorful rhetoric as a state and federal representative, as well as being the national director of the John Birch Society.

The congressman, who characterized Martin Luther King as a “notorious liar,” was one of the bastions of Orange County’s heyday as a conservative stronghold in the state.

Schmitz’s life was marred by several scandals, including one in which he admitted to having a mistress who bore two of his children. His daughter later was convicted of having sex with a 13-year-old student.

Schmitz made his reputation in 1962 by disarming a knife-wielding assailant; the victim died of her wounds.

Two years later, he was elected as a Republican state senator, and then reelected. He was revered by local businessmen and landholders, and easily won a congressional seat following the death of its incumbent in 1970.

Schmitz also received more than 1 million votes when he ran as an independent against Richard Nixon. He died in 2001.

THEY DELIGHTED US

RUPERT THE SWAN

A beloved “floating fixture” in Newport Harbor, Rupert the black swan’s death created an outpouring of grief in 2006.

Rupert was struck by a speeding Harbor Patrol boat that was on its way to retrieve a body discovered in the water. He and his life mate, Pearl, were regulars in the bay for about 15 years; he was said to be despondent when Pearl died in 2002.

Rupert captured the hearts of everyone from surfers to yachtsmen, excepting those who find wildlife to be a nuisance. A paddle-out funeral was held after the Australian swan’s death. No one knows how he arrived in Newport Harbor, but locals and tourists alike delighted to see him charge after anything in the shade of red. Rupert was so popular that his likeness was featured on the city’s 2006 Rose Parade float.

Since Rupert’s death, a MySpace page and documentary DVD have made waves. Swans can live for 30 years or more; Rupert was estimated to be about 16 at the time of his death.

FLORENCE ‘FLOSS’ SCHUMACHER, 86

The doyenne of the Orange County arts scene for nearly three decades, Floss Schumacher was responsible for everything from the opening gala for the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa to holding auditions for New York City’s Metropolitan Opera in Orange County. She died this August.

After moving to Newport Beach with her family in 1964, Schumacher immediately began working to build up several local arts organizations that were resident at the center, including the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Pacific Chorale, the Pacific Symphony and Opera Pacific.

Her love of music began with playing the bassoon in high school, friends said, and Schumacher worked to provide free concerts for the area’s children. She donated endless time and money to the arts, including raising more than $70 million in private funds for the Orange County Performing Arts Center’s buildings.

RENEE MARY SEGERSTROM, 72

The second wife of area developer Henry T. Segerstrom, Renee Mary Segerstrom was the county’s cultural leader, and was a major player in the development of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, South Coast Repertory and Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum.

The patroness worked in tandem with her husband to develop area culture while he developed its infrastructure, from South Coast Plaza to South Coast Metro.

Segerstrom also was known for her elegant sense of style, and was a barometer of the fashions of the day; she always was impeccably attired, usually in Yves St. Laurent and precious gems. She named the sculpture at the front of the arts center, now known as “Fire Bird,” and was an avid art collector and oil painter. The “lady of the old school,” as she was called, Renee Mary Segerstrom also was an avid cook, gardener and reader.

Upon her death in 2000, she left behind a son, daughter and grandchildren in addition to her husband, who named the new, world-class Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at the performing arts center stands in her honor.

THEY GALVANIZED US

JAN VANDERSLOOT, 64

The sudden death in November of leading environmental activist Jan Vandersloot shocked the community.

The dermatologist had a deep and abiding love for flora and fauna alike, and fought to preserve the area as an environmental haven, rather than a concrete jungle. He was happy to share his extensive knowledge of how to preserve open space with others to benefit the area at large.

Vandersloot primarily worked to preserve Newport Beach’s parks and coastal areas, like Banning Ranch, as well as the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach.

He was known for using his quiet, dignified manner to lobby for nature, and a recent financial contribution to add seeds at Castaways Park is now being seen as a fitting legacy.

Vandersloot left behind a wife and two children.

FRANCES AND FRANK ROBINSON, 82 and 84

One of the foremost protectors of the Back Bay was a husband-and-wife team. Frances and Frank Robinson lobbied for the preservation of Upper Newport Bay estuary for decades, and saw their dream become a reality before their deaths in 2001 and 2003, respectively.

The couple are best known for their work to stop a planned marina in the Back Bay. They fought the Irvine Co. for years, starting with a lawsuit in 1969. The 750 acres of land was purchased by the state following a 1973 court ruling, and was designated as a protected ecological preserve; the state also purchased 140 acres from the company.

The Robinsons lived in the same Dover Shores home for more than 40 years after they moved to the neighborhood in the early 1960s. He was an aeronautical engineer for Rockwell who faced pressure from company heads over his activism, and also sat on the Orange County Harbor Commission, where he helped plan Dana Point Harbor.

The Robinsons left behind two children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

PHIL ARST, 79

The pioneer of the Greenlight Initiative, Phil Arst worked to give local residents the right to control Newport Beach’s growth.

The slow-growth Measure S initiative, which was passed in 2000, requires a public vote on any construction development that doesn’t closely comply with the city’s general plan. Previously, such developments could be approved by the City Council.

The law stopped several commercial developments in their tracks, but new guidelines were approved by voters six years later that effectively negated much of Arst’s work.

A Korean War veteran, Arst was a Chicago native who received a master’s in business administration and worked in business and engineering after moving to California. He lived in Van Nuys with his family before moving to Corona del Mar.

Arst died in 2008 of complications from a liver transplant he had received four years previously.

THEY DEVELOPED US

DANIEL DONAHUE, 60

The 33-year chairman and co-founder of local development giant Donahue Schriber, Daniel Donahue’s company was best known for transforming Fashion Island.

He spent three years at the top of the Newport-Mesa business community, following the founding of his company with Thomas Schriber in 1967. Donahue Schriber developed more than 15 million square feet of retail space in the Southwest, including the Glendale Galleria, Anaheim Plaza and the Marketplace in Tustin and Irvine.

Locally, Donahue Schriber is best known for transforming Fashion Island into a unified, stylish retail destination.

The California native dabbled briefly as a real estate broker before forming the firm with Schriber.

In May 2002, both Donahue and Schriber were presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards from the UC Irvine Graduate School of Management. Later that year, Donahue also received the Champion of Industry Award of the California Business Properties Assn. He died on New Year’s Eve 2002.

Donahue also was remembered for his strong interest in educating at-risk children through organizations like Kidworks.

Donahue died of complications following heart surgery. He left behind a wife and three daughters.

JOHN CREAN, 81

A motor home magnate and famed philanthropist, John Crean was as well-known for his work in the transportation industry as for the 1990s cable television cooking show he hosted, “At Home on the Range.”

Raised on a North Dakota farm, Crean moved to Compton with his family during the Great Depression. The troublemaker was kicked out of two junior high schools, and quit high school and college, instead joining the Navy.

Always an inventor and innovator, Crean founded Fleetwood Enterprises in 1950 in Riverside. He started out creating travel trailers, and later moved the company into the manufactured home and motor home industry; at times, the company was the world’s largest producer of both.

He left the company in 1998, when he was bought out by other company leaders. On the home front, Crean was married to his wife, Donna, for 58 years before his death in 2007, and ensured her name was placed first in the Donna and John Crean Mariners Branch Library, named in their honor.

JEANETTE SEGERSTROM, 72

Newport Beach resident Jeanette Segerstrom, a former managing partner of South Coast Plaza and C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, was the wife of the late Harold T. Segerstrom, one of South Coast Plaza’s founders.

Along with her work in development and business as owner of South Coast Plaza, Segerstrom took part in her family’s goal to develop the culture of Orange County. She was a frequent patron at local productions, and always appeared in posh St. John suits, which helped the Orange County brand escalate to international fame.

She and her husband were original founders of Opera Pacific, and the Pacific Symphony’s Classics Series was renamed for the couple.

Jeanette Segerstrom’s interest in music was thought to originate in her childhood instruction in cello and piano; she also was a fan of Broadway musicals, which she raised her family to love as well.

But Jeanette Segerstrom may be best recalled by her “impish grin,” which wrapped her wit, style and panache into a pretty little package. She died in 2001.


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