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Tales of Roy E. June

In 1999, the Costa Mesa Historical Society recognized Roy E. June with a Living Memorial Award for his work as Costa Mesa’s City Attorney and for his contributions to volunteer organizations throughout the area. Born in Montana in 1922, June first arrived in Costa Mesa as a cadet at the Santa Ana Army Air Base (SAAAB). In the late 1950s, tired of the cold, he returned to Orange County with his wife. Soon he found work at the law firm of then-city attorney Donald Dungan, later being hired on as city prosecutor, then rising from acting city attorney to city attorney himself, a position he held for 11 years. He “retired” in 1977, but it was hard to tell. It’s said he set a record for incorporating the most non-profit corporations in Orange County — including our own society. The following lightly edited excerpts were taken from his 1978 oral history.

On arriving in California after receiving orders for SAAAB

I was told to pack a suitcase with one change of clothing and razor and one shaving brush and one toothbrush and toothpaste and that was it. We first came to the Union Station in Los Angeles. I had come from Montana where the snow was about two or three feet deep at the station when I left, and got off the train in Union Station to see the green grass, orange trees, and palm trees. I will never will forget that. I wanted to go pick oranges immediately.

June earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for service in the Pacific theater, flying fighter-strafer and escort missions over Iwo Jima and  Japan.

I flew one mission after the bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and I can recall flying near that area—not over, but near it—and I could look down where there was supposed to be a city. There was just a huge black spot on the earth. I was probably 25 or 30 miles away from it.

As city prosecutor, June saw some interesting cases, including this one about Newport Beach’s policy of no beer on the beach.

There was down there what they called the “Mole Patrol” — police officers in bathing suits who went up and down the beach and wrote citations for people who were found drinking beer on the beach. Here was a German national who was in this country as a visitor, visiting some of his family in Newport Beach and he went down with a group of people and had a six-pack of beer sitting right out on the sand. He got arrested or cited. We tried the case before the jury, the whole thing through the interpreter. The German national, about all he could say was that he didn’t think he was guilty of anything. He wasn’t drunk and there weren’t any signs around saying he couldn’t drink beer. I felt sorry for him and I was hoping that the jury would find him “not guilty,” but they didn’t. So [Judge] Christiansen waved benignly and benevolently fined him and suspended the fine and asked him to drink his beer at home rather than out on the beach.

June developed a rapport with the police department as city prosecutor in the mid-1960s. Many anecdotes illustrate his pride in the department.

We were the second city in California, the first in Orange County, to use sound-motion pictures on drunk driving cases. The guy would go and get his attorney and they would fight this all the way down to zero. I would say, “Fine. Did you know that your client starred in a rather interesting picture the other day?” So the attorney would go over and see the drunk driving film and then the attorney would call up and say, “What is the judge doing on sentencing these days?”

The new city hall, fire house, and golf course required the issuance of new bonds. But the process to transfer the signed bonds from Costa Mesa to the trustees in San Diego ran into a little problem.

Once these bonds were all signed, they then became worth $3,490,000. So after the signing was all done, it suddenly occurred to me. “How are you going to get these to San Diego?” The trust officer said, “Oh my God. I never thought of that.” I said, “You are not going to just put them in the back of your car and go sailing off towards San Diego with $3,490,000 in bonds.” He turned as white as a sheet of paper. He was almost stammering. He said, “I guess I had better call my boss.” I said, “Do you want your boss to know that we hadn’t planned on this?” Finally we decided that we would get the Costa Mesa Police Department and the arrangement was made that we would put half of the bonds in the trust officer’s car with one police officer and we would put the other half of the bonds in a police car with another trust officer’s car. On the way, before they left, I said to Ed Glasgow, the Assistant Chief of Police, “Ed, what is your armament? How are you ready to protect this?” He opened the trunk of the car and there was a machine gun. I said, “OK, that is good enough!”

June explains why some old timers know the section of Placentia from the high school to Adams as “Estancia Drive.”

There was a large delegation of people who came from Mesa Verde down to the Council one day. “We don’t like Placentia,” [they said]. “We want Estancia because it is near the Estancia and also near Estancia High School.” Well, they asked me to go find out how the street was named. Well, I started to trace it back and I found out that as part of a lawsuit to condemn the property with the State of California [for Fairview Hospital] and to get the right-of-way, I had to have a map to describe the streets. Some engineering draftsman had, just for temporary identification purposes, called it Estancia Drive because it started at Estancia High School. It is all resolved now. But there are still those people in Mesa Verde who say absolutely that it is Estancia Drive and they are not going to call it Placentia at all.

June drafted incorporation paper for the Costa Mesa Playhouse and numerous other groups, including the historical society.

I did that for my good friend Charley Priest. The Segerstrom family had the choice of just plowing the [adobe] under and making it part of a subdivision or giving it to the city. The city wanted a vehicle that could accept it and one that could buy insurance and one that could raise funds. The city wanted public participation and couldn’t very well raise funds through public solicitation so we decided that we would form a historical society and incorporate it as a non-profit corporation.

Despite moving out of Costa Mesa later in life, he continued to feel pride in the city.

I think Costa Mesa is, without a doubt, the best city in Orange County from the standpoint of fiscal responsibility and from the standpoint of personnel and quality of leadership that, with few exceptions, has been elected since the city was formed.

Even after retirement, June couldn’t stop working.

I have to get out of the house and do something. I am not the type of person who can sit and vegetate. The idea of sitting looking at a wall for more than five minutes panics me.

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Bessie Lounsberry: A Most Remarkable Woman

Bessie Nell (White) Lounsberry (1886-1972) made many important contributions to the civic life of 1930s-50s Costa Mesa. She compiled the city directory, worked local elections, and served on the Costa Mesa Citizen’s Council, along with other volunteer roles. Her seven-year beautification campaign led to the planting of 1,026 trees. She was honored for her decades of selfless service with the Costa Mesa Historical Society’s second Living Memorial Award in 1973.

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Remembering Barbara Panian

Society member and volunteer Barbara Panian passed away on March 30, 2018. Residents of Costa Mesa since 1956, Barbara and Hank Panian raised their family in the College Park neighborhood. Long-time docents at the Diego Sepulveda Adobe, Barbara and Hank were involved in the early days of the Society and attended many community events over the years. We offer our sincere condolences to Hank & family for their loss.

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1918-1919 Flu Hits Southland, Patient Hits Bottle

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 influenza, one of the worst pandemics in history, which claimed the lives of up to 100 million people and infected 500 million worldwide. About 300 died out of Orange County’s population of 30,000. While the mortality rate here was lower than elsewhere, the demand for nurses still outstripped the supply, leading the chairman of the Santa Ana Red Cross to plead for volunteers to “meet the call of humanity” and tend to the sick.

Alice King (later Eastman), a young philanthropist from Costa Mesa, answered the call. But it didn’t turn out the way she expected. Decades later, she told the story to our own Mary Ellen Goddard:

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Tragedy at the Riverside

During a heatwave on August 5, 1917, two cousins, Robert Gisler’s daughter Elizabeth, 11, and Sam Gisler’s daughter Mabel, 10, went to the Santa Ana River with Elizabeth’s sister Lucile, 6, to play in the water.

The two older girls were wading in the shallows of the channel, laughing and playing, when they suddenly lost their footing and stepped into a large hole. They struggled to find a foothold in the deep drop-off, while their cries for help went unanswered. Young Lucile thought they were only playing.

When the girls disappeared under the water, Lucile ran for help, eventually finding a surf-fisherman on the beach 3/4 mile away. He and a 13-year-old boy managed to recover the girls, who by that point had been in the water between 45 minutes and an hour.

Every effort was made to revive them. An electric car was flagged down, and a Pulmotor resuscitator was sent from Santa Ana. But it was too late. At the time of the accident, Sam and Robert were in Seal Beach, where they received the sad news.

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How do you pronounce Gisler?

Gisler Avenue in the north side of Costa Mesa sees more traffic, perhaps, than any other street of its size in the city. The 1.7 mile road is lined with subdivisions, schools, a city park, and hugely popular restaurant chains like In N’ Out, Raising Cane’s, Denny’s, and Chik-Fil-A.

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Nat Rochester, Costa Mesa War Hero
Nat Rochester leads the color guard at the "Homecoming of Company L," April 6th, 1918, on 4th Street in Santa Ana. Source: "The Story of Company L: Santa Ana's Own", 1958.

Nat Rochester, Costa Mesa War Hero

In the Argonne Forest, October 8, 1918, Sergeant Nathaniel N. Rochester became one of the first Costa Mesans to die for his country.

Nat, as he was called, moved to what was then Harper in 1908 at age ten. His parents were artists, but he was drawn to patriotic duty, like the great-great grandfather for whom he was named, the Revolutionary War colonel and founder of Rochester, New York.

He enlisted with Company L, “Santa Ana’s Own,” in 1916, and briefly patrolled the Mexican border against Pancho Villa’s raids. The Company mobilized again in 1917 when the US entered the Great War, and was stationed first in San Luis Obispo, then at Camp Kearny.

Nat returned home for the last time in April, 1918, taking a place of honor among the color guard at the “Homecoming of Company L,” considered one of the largest parades ever held in Santa Ana.

The company was deployed to Europe that summer. Nat was transferred to Company B, 308th infantry, and sent to the front.

Nat’s letters home contained his inveterate cheerfulness. He urged his mother, when he learned he would be fighting on her birthday, to celebrate by waving Old Glory. The supreme sacrifice, he said, “would be like skipping a grade in school.”

In October 1918 Nat’s division advanced quickly but reinforcements were delayed, allowing the German army to surround what would become known as the “Lost Battalion.” 554 soldiers fought for six days against overwhelming odds, with little food or ammunition, and water only reached under enemy fire. Only 194 men were rescued. The rest were captured or killed.

On the last day of the siege, October 8, Nat was shot and killed, a month away from his 21st birthday. He died, it is said, furiously working the bolt of his rifle, saying: “Don’t surrender.”

When his family and friends learned the news, they vowed to commemorate their beloved Nat. A tablet was unveiled with great ceremony at the Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana, where it remains in a place of honor. His mother dedicated a book of poetry to him, From Star to Star, in print today. And his father campaigned to memorialize fallen heroes in the names of city streets.

So on this Veteran’s Day, or whenever you’re on Rochester Street, take a moment to remember Nat, the cheery lad from Costa Mesa who sacrificed everything for his country.

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