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Grant Winds Up Whirlwind Career as OCC President : Education: Popular, indefatigable educator leaves administration work. But he'll keep coaching the college's crew team.

December 17, 1995|MARTIN MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — There's no disputing David Grant has pep.

Enough to have been a student pep commissioner on the athletic fields of Orange Coast College nearly four decades ago. Enough to sail thousands of ocean miles retracing the voyages of explorer Capt. James Cook in 1972. Enough to carry him to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro in 1989. And enough to coach crew two hours each morning, then hustle off in his signature bow-tie to run the college of his youth for the last 6 1/2 years.

But even the energetic need a break. His golden retriever, Ty (short for Typhoon), hasn't been on a long walk for weeks. His sailboat, Finistrerre (Latin for "land's end" and named for a family home in England), hasn't sliced through ocean waters for months. He hasn't been to a movie theater for years.

"The only way I know how to do this job is to work 12 to 14 hours a day," said the 57-year-old Grant, who lives in a Newport Beach home a stone's throw from North Lido Channel, where he has trained hundreds of sailors and thousands of rowers. "There's always an opening of a play, a basketball game, a poetry reading or a board meeting. And the president of the college should be there."

So, after 33 years as a teacher, crew coach and administrator, the gregarious man with a crew-cut will retire from OCC's top administrative post Dec. 31.

"I wish there were a way for a college president to take a year off," said Grant, who will stay on as crew coach. "But it doesn't work that way."

Grant will leave behind a number of capital improvements he helped foster at the 47-year-old Costa Mesa campus.

During his tenure as president, Grant helped raise $6.9 million for major projects such as the remodeling of the Robert B. Moore Theatre and the student center, and construction of a new child care center. Grant also spearheaded efforts to bolster the school's high-tech programs in avionics, robotics and electronic media and art.

Grant, who hired 71 tenure-track faculty members, is regarded as something of an institutional compass at the college.

A reception for Grant last week attracted more than 500 students, faculty and administrators, both past and present. During the 90-minute tribute, a host of speakers whose ranks included County Supervisor Marian Bergeson praised Grant's vision, energy and passion for the college of 22,500 students.

"You are a home-grown product and that's what makes us especially proud of you," said Bergeson, who also read a glowing proclamation from Gov. Pete Wilson.

Added English professor Don Pierstorff to loud applause: "Someone will come here to take your place, but no one will replace you."

Grant's deep roots in the college, which go back to 1956, feed such sentiments. Uncertain of what he wanted out of an education after graduating from Newport Harbor High School, Grant enrolled at OCC instead of a bigger University of California school.

When he arrived at the then primarily agricultural campus, pigs and cows outnumbered the 2,200 students.

"In those days if you didn't know everyone on campus, you at least knew them by sight," said Grant, who credits his OCC instructors for inspiring him to become a history and political science teacher. "I'd like to think life was simpler and easier then. But I really don't know, it probably wasn't."

After two years at his hometown college, Grant decided to broaden his intellectual and geographical horizons. Within a five-year span, he obtained a bachelor's degree in political science from UCLA, a master's in American history from Cal State Long Beach and did postgraduate work in international relations at the University of Stockholm and the University of Oslo.

"I learned that the world was a great deal larger than the province of Newport Beach," he said.

Though his love for travel and adventure eventually placed him in sailboats in the South Pacific, in crew boats in China and in mountain-climbing gear in Kenya, Grant's anchor has always seemed to be OCC.

"It would never occur to me to go to any other college. Why in the world would I want to go somewhere else?" said Grant.

After accepting a position at OCC as a history instructor and crew coach in 1963, Grant quickly took a major administrative role in charting the course for the rapidly expanding campus. From 1964 to 1974, he was assistant dean of students, from 1976 to 1986, he served as the dean of students.

"The campus was growing by 2,000 and 3,000 students a semester during those days," recalled Grant. "It was a marvelous time."

The good times screeched to a halt for Grant in 1985 when a new president, Donald R. Bronsard, took over at OCC. He and Bronsard "disagreed on virtually every subject," recalled Grant. Eventually, the tension became too much for Grant, and he resigned as dean of students in 1986.

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