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Voice of the migrant worker, Frank Forbath, dies

Frank Paul Forbath, a longtime Costa Mesa activist who co-founded the Share Our Selves nonprofit, has died.

Forbath died Sept. 2 of cancer surrounded by family at his Mesa Verde home. He was 90.

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His family noted his years of fighting for social causes, particularly the plight of farmworkers, whose poverty-like conditions in the fields near South Coast Plaza contrasted with the shopping center's ritzy vibe.

Daughter Kathy Esfahani, a local attorney and affordable-housing advocate in Costa Mesa, said her father instilled in all his children the belief that one individual can change the world.

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"My dad is my hero," she said. "My dad inspired me to always speak out when you see something wrong, in the community, in the nation. You have a responsibility to do something about it."

Born in 1925 in Los Angeles, Forbath — a lifelong Republican who always voted Democratic, his family said — was raised by a single mother in poverty. At 16, he enrolled at UCLA. After graduating, he became a naval officer and served during World War II.

When he returned from the war, he used the GI Bill to earn a master's degree at Stanford University.

When not advocating for causes, Forbath worked as an engineer in the aerospace industry for companies including the RAND Corp. and Hughes Aircraft Co.

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His family described him as boundlessly curious and creative, always collecting ideas in a notebook.

Forbath and his wife, Jean, moved to Costa Mesa in 1962.

By 1970, the pair had founded SOS out of St. John the Baptist Church, on Baker Street in Costa Mesa.

"They decided to take on the cause of poverty in Orange County," Esfahani said.

Decades later, the Costa Mesa nonprofit — now based on Superior Avenue in the industrial Westside — boasts four facilities that serve thousands of local homeless or low-income people by providing medical care, housing, food and financial aid.

SOS Executive Director Karen McGlinn said Forbath's personality fit his good deeds.

"He was truly the most noble, kind, compassionate person I have ever had the privilege of calling friend," she said."His smile, presence in the room and tenacity to live his life in perfect harmony with his faith in God made being with him a delight."

At SOS, Forbath spearheaded the farmworker project, which gave migrants access to healthcare, legal assistance and religious services. For the isolated men living in barracks, it was a regular social connection, Forbath's family noted.

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"He brought to light the terrible conditions these people were living in and challenged powerful people," Esfahani said. "The owners were big names."

In the 1970s, Forbath and SOS members studied migrant labor camps in Orange County, finding "unsupervised, subhuman conditions in most of them," according to a 1988 Los Angeles Times profile.

That information was turned over to the Orange County Human Relations Commission and grand jury. Last year, the commission honored Forbath and his wife with a legacy award for their civil rights contributions.

In the 1988 Times profile, Forbath was critical of a state assemblyman's characterization of the homeless as "a significant number of them" choosing to be that way.

"I just wish that people who express these views might have been with us when we were trying to get homeless people off the streets during the cold spell last Christmas," Forbath told The Times. "I could spend an hour talking about each case — people who are desperately looking for jobs and a place they can afford to live and who find themselves in these straits because of conditions over which they had little or no control."

Forbath is survived by his wife, Jean; seven children; and 15 grandchildren.

A public memorial mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 25 at Saints Simon and Jude Catholic Church, 20444 Magnolia St., Huntington Beach.

In lieu of flowers, his family requests that donations be made in Forbath's name to the National Farm Worker Ministry, P.O. Box 10645, Raleigh, N.C. 27605.

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