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CELEBRATE! : ORANGE COUNTY'S FIRST 100 YEARS : CELEBRATING A REVOLUTION : We've always believed we were bright enough and bold enough to solve our own problems.

May 22, 1988|JIM SLEEPER

History is a pageant, a passing parade of events. Centennial celebrations should be a sampling of the whole procession. Certainly, the cavalcade of Orange County's first century is among the most colorful found anywhere. But with all the pageantry surrounding our centennial observance, let us not forget that what we are really celebrating is a revolution.

Orange County was carved out of the lower third of Los Angeles County only after a 20-year struggle. Ultimately, it took a legislative act, a governor's proclamation, a plebiscite, a court decision, a county-seat election and another court case to win our freedom.

The reasons behind our rebellion were manifold. No doubt the determination of a cocky young offspring to chuck the "old Imperial Mother" (as our press was pleased to call Los Angeles) had much to do with it. Not least was a desire to make our own mistakes rather than having them foisted upon us. We've always believed we were bright enough and bold enough to solve our own problems.

Orange County has long put a premium on the right to be different. Historically, our chronicles are enriched by such characters as Anaheim's first mayor, Max von Strobel--entrepreneur, soldier of fortune and father of Orange County's independence movement (see Page 38). Equally independent, if less flamboyant, was Fanny Bixby Spencer--a fervent Socialist, pacifist and philanthropist who made headlines in the '20s. That such people could flourish here is a tribute to the county's tolerance.

Orange County is distinctive because of its diversity. The county is more vocal, richer and smaller--782 square miles--than most, which should make it easier to summarize. But for all its vocalism, its wealth, its diminutiveness, Orange County is American history revisited. The United States began as a collection of colonies. In a sense, it is no more than 50 fat ones today. Orange County is a microcosm of them all.

What makes this county tick? I'd say it's a cohesive pride in itself and a passion for protecting the individuality of the colonists who compose it. Admittedly, nearly everyone here comes from somewhere else. In effect, we are all immigrants, but we are all warmed by the same Orange County sunshine.

I happen to be a third-generation Orange Countian who has spent almost 50 years gumshoe-ing this county's mysteries. Even so, it's a dull day when I don't learn something old . Questions that I can't answer send me into the saddle--hot on a fresh chase.

One great charm of being a local historian is that I have more than two centuries to draw upon. I can slip back into any year to relive those so-called "good old days." I invite you to do the same as you tour the pages of Celebrate! Orange County's First 100 Years.

Old-timers and newcomers alike will find the challenges of this county's past as intriguing as the dilemmas of today. That we met those past challenges bodes well for the future.

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