Mesa Musings: Sail away with his lectures

Is there a more knowledgeable sailor in our community than Dave Grant?

Because this is my column, I can ask and answer my own questions. My response is, "I think not!"

Now, you could hide my knowledge of sailing on the business end of a cotton swab. But I've known Dave for 40 years, and take my word for it, he knows about sailing.

The retired Orange Coast College professor, crew coach, president — and lifelong sailor — is midway through a swashbuckling eight-part lecture series he's presenting at the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum. Titled "Seafaring Tales With David Grant," the lectures are from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Thursdays at the museum, 600 E. Bay Ave. in Newport Beach. Admission is $10 for non-members and $5 for students. For reservations, call (949) 675-8915.

There are four lectures left.

This Thursday's lecture looks at Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated 1914-17 trans-Antarctic expedition. The Oct. 21 session will focus on Capt. William Bligh of H.M.S. Bounty fame.

Christopher Columbus will be the subject of the Oct. 28 lecture. The series will conclude Nov. 4 with a look at Ferdinand Magellan and the first circumnavigation of the globe.

Raised in Newport Beach, Dave was a member of the college's faculty for more than 30 years, and served as president from 1989 until his retirement in 1995.

He loved his time as an OCC student in the late 1950s.

"The college shaped my life," he says.

At OCC, he learned how to be a student. He discovered leadership skills, mapped out his educational future, and fell in love with rowing. He was coxswain for OCC's crew and later rowed at UCLA.

"There were a number of people at Coast who made a huge difference in my life," he said. "Bob Griesser, my history professor, was the reason I ended up teaching history. He made his subject enthralling, and his passion was infectious.

"Mary McChesney taught me American literature. She was a fabulous teacher. I took German from Elmo Shaver. He taught me about the erudite life, and showed me there was a world beyond Orange County."

After two years at UCLA, Dave studied for a year at the University of Stockholm, traveled to Russia and backpacked throughout Europe.

He returned to the U.S. and completed a master's in history. He joined OCC's staff in 1962 as sailing coach and assistant crew coach, and became a history instructor and head crew coach the following year. He coached crew for more than 40 years, continuing long after his retirement.

Dave was an assistant U.S. Olympic crew coach for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Sports Illustrated Magazine, in a story about him in the early 1990s, tagged him as the only college president/head coach in the land.

He's a member of the Sailing Hall of Fame and, during a 1972 sabbatical, sailed a 28-foot sloop to Hawaii, Fiji, Samoa and Noumea, retracing the voyage of Captain James Cook.

Told you he knows sailing!

Dave served as OCC's assistant dean of students and dean of students for 20 years. He was director of marine programs, facilities and services from 1986 through 1989.

When Dave became the college's president, he posted a sign in his office that read "How Does it Benefit Students?" That became his mantra.

"Before making any decision, I'd ask myself, 'Is it a good thing for students?' That kept me focused," he said.

Dave says his six-year presidency was the highlight of his career.

"I had a great staff, and we all worked hard and did a good job. It was a creative atmosphere."

David retired in 1995, at the age of 57. His popularity as president had never been higher. There were no detractors at the gate calling for his ouster.

"The college is in very good shape," he told the community as he prepared to step down.

Did he leave too soon?

"Perhaps," he said. "But I didn't want to overstay my welcome. I wanted to leave while things were good." And things were very good in 1995!

Editor's Note: David Grant is running for a seat in Area 5 of the Coast Community College District.

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

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