In The Pipeline: 'Jewel' of a design lives on

Laura Berry recalls the big ceremony in January 1969, when the new official flag of Orange County was officially adopted — a flag that she designed.

"They called me the Betsy Ross of Orange County," she said.

It was all part of a countywide high school art competition to find the next flag, and Berry (whose maiden name was Shernaman) submitted the entry that was chosen by the judges as the winner.

"The ceremony took place at the opening of the new Orange County Courthouse and it was, as I remember, a pretty big deal," she said. "I still have the framed plaque they gave me."

Then a junior at Fountain Valley High School, Berry still sees the flag on television occasionally from her home in the Northern California town of Willits.

"Sometimes when there's a court case on, I can see the flag behind the judge," she said.

Chris Jepsen, assistant archivist at the Orange County Archives, said that although Berry's design seems to get altered from time to time over the years, her basic concept featuring a "saw blade" sun surrounding the official county seal has remained more or less intact.

Berry, who has several grown children, still relishes the fact she won the contest and considers it a badge of honor.

"I loved art then and I love art now. So to have something I created like that will live on for years is something special," she said. "It was a proud feeling to watch that flag get raised back then and to know that it was my design. My kids always got a kick out of that fact, and I feel as though I was able to add to the history of a place where I loved growing up, Orange County."

She doesn't get down here that often anymore, but next time she visits, if she'd like, I think it would be fun to take her over to the O.C. Archives. As Jepsen showed me recently, the county did a good job of saving not just Berry's original entry, but every flag design that was submitted, all 80 of them.

I spread them all out on a table and enjoyed the various colorful designs and inspirations. Where were these high school artists today? Steve Burks, Donna Presley and Rhonda Spencer — did they go on to create more art later in life? What about the others?

After looking over the bold, diverse designs (some touting county attributes like "Progress," "Diversity," and "Equality") I finally came to the winner. It was separated from the others, in its own manila envelope.

On the back, a label was taped: "Laura Shernaman," written in her own hand. Attached to the flag design, which was card-mounted and about six by nine inches, was a hand-written memo from the desk of Christine Galanis, public communications coordinator for the County Administration Office. It reads:

"1-17-69

Jay Rocha, please take care of this jewel — only one of its kind.

Thanks,

Christine"

And so there it lives in the archives, this "jewel" as it was documented, an original piece of art that won the hearts of the judges. If you ever happen to see the flag today, now you'll know where it came from, a creative high school junior in Fountain Valley who has gone on to create a broad body of work, but whose first notable creation will no doubt wave for a long time throughout Orange County.

To view Laura's art today, visit travel.webshots.com/album/553619712xZZgbY.

And a reminder — I'll be signing books at Barnes & Noble at Bella Terra at 1 p.m. Dec. 11. If you'd like a signed book for someone this holiday, the store will have all of my local history books as well as "Roadside Baseball," "Hello, It's Me" and some of my other pop culture-related titles available.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at chris@chrisepting.com.

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