It is with heartfelt sadness and admiration for a life well lived that I begin this message. Our friend Mel Pierce passed away on May 19. To me, Mel has always been our patriarch as a longtime resident, who, together with his wife Helen, was officially named a Historical Society founder in 2007, and was a mentor to those of us interested in Sidney H. Woodruff’s early develoment of Dana Point. It was just May 13th when the Historical Society officially named Mel our “Patriarch of Dana Point” and Judy and Buck Henderson were honored with the 2015 Founders Day Award (See page 3). Many local dignitaries attended the event and special guests included large contingents of the Henderson and Pierce families, John Lashbrook, Patriarch of San Clemente, and Lois Divel, Matriarch of San Clemente, whose husband attended high school with Mel. My introductory remarks included my first conversation with Mel when he explained how, as children, he and his friends played in Keith’s and my home, as well as others in Dana Point, as they sat empty in the depression’s early years.
The purpose of our Founders Day program is to honor individuals who have significantly contributed to the history of Dana Point or to the Historical Society. Mel Pierce’s 85 years in Dana Point exemplify the life of a Founder and Patriarch. It was July 4, 1930, when he moved with his family from Pasadena to the new home his father had built for them on Chula Vista Avenue. (The home is still there, graced with a City of Dana Point Historic Home plaque.) Mel’s father was employed by developer Sidney H. Woodruff in 1929 and stayed in spite of the depression that followed. Thanks to DPHS board members Paul Hinman and Bruce Beal, we have three oral histories about Mel. The first describes his total freedom roaming the beach and hills in rural Dana Point. There were no schools here, so he attended Serra Elementary in Capistrano Beach and San Juan Capistrano High School. The second oral history describes Mel and his sister Thelma’s surfing experiences, both of whom were taught to tandem surf in Dana Cove by surfing legend Lorin “Whitey” Harrison. The third oral history describes Mel’s training in Aircraft Maintenance at Pomona Junior College, followed by civil service jobs leading to his WWII service in the Army Air Corps as a flight engineer, part of a transport crew flying high-octane fuel to France and returning with wounded soldiers until the war’s end. Mel’s mother introduced him to his future wife, Helen, who would eventually teach at R. H. Dana Elementary, built just behind his parents’ home.
Fellow firefighter Bill Dean spoke about Mel’s 25-year volunteer service at the Doheny Fire Station (which Mel helped establish in 1958), the community and social center created there and the sacrifice and support required by the Pierce family. Mel’s son, David Pierce, talked about the influence his father had on him: his exemplary role model as a father, as a fellow firefighter, which influenced Dave’s career with the Orange County Fire Authority, and Mel’s overall philosophy of doing a job well. Helen Pierce shared some interesting stories about Mel’s parent’s home and thanked the Society on his behalf for this honor.
Mel’s daughter, Sandy Samoff, also spoke about her father’s priorities and recounted wonderful memories of growing up in our area. Paul Hinman was joined at the podium by Bruce Beal as he read the proclamation naming Mel Pierce as our Patriarch of Dana Point. Mel and Helen have shared Dana Point History in many of our meetings and their own story could make a Hallmark Channel program on the “greatest generation.” Because Mel was in the hospital with pneumonia, Paul and Bruce promised to visit him Thursday to present him with the proclamation — and I can report that they did. An article about Mel’s years as a volunteer firefighter appeared in a Dana Point Times article, which is online at: http://www.danapointtimes.com/preserving-the-service-sacrifice.
This month we looked back on all that our honorees have achieved over so many years. Next month we look forward to celebrating the accomplishments and goals of young people when we honor two deserving high school graduates at our Annual Scholarship Fiesta Picnic on June 24, at Doheny State Beach. We hope to have your advance reservation, which helps Lucy’s El Patio Café with food preparation. Please see page 5 for more information.
Barbara Force Johannes