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Studying the Lessons of Steven J. Frogue : Profile: The teacher and Saddleback trustee does not retreat from controversy that his views generate.

November 25, 1996|MICHAEL GRANBERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

His supporters call him a friend of the teacher, a benevolent caretaker of local schools, a loving father and family man. His opponents call him a demagogue, an eccentric, a flake. Too often, they say, he articulates the marginal and irrelevant.

His most vocal detractors accuse him of being an anti-Semite who often takes aim at Jewish organizations and who questions the severity of the Holocaust--charges he denies and labels as "scurrilous."

To the casual observer, Steven J. Frogue, 54, looks like everybody's favorite uncle or the high school teacher we all remember. For three decades, this curly-haired, bespectacled man has been an instructor at Foothill High School in Tustin.

He's also an ex-Marine, a Presbyterian deacon and a recently reelected member of the Saddleback Community College District Board of Trustees.

In the Nov. 5 election, Frogue was the top vote-getter among the seven trustees, receiving 128,361 votes for a decisive 60.7%-to-38.7% win over his opponent.

More than any facet of his public life, however, Frogue is a lightning rod for controversy. And while the criticisms he's received would offend almost anyone, Frogue seems to relish the notoriety.

"I try to tell the truth. I try to teach the truth," he said during a recent interview, as his students filed into class. "If that's controversial, then so be it. Mark Twain said that if you tell the truth, you will gratify some and astonish the rest. That could be the epitaph of Steve Frogue."

Frogue has been accused of denying the Holocaust, according to a former board member and several former students who say his comments about Jews and those who died at the hands of the Nazis cross over a line of ethics, propriety and recorded fact.

In 1994, complaints from parents at Foothill High led to Frogue's being transferred from his history class to a one-year assignment managing a roomful of students serving detention, according to a source close to the case. A tenured instructor, Frogue appealed to the school board, which voted to return him to teaching. School officials declined comment, calling it "a personnel matter."

What triggered the complaint, according to the source, were comments Frogue had allegedly been making in class--including skepticism about the Holocaust and derogatory references to Asians and African Americans.

Frogue vehemently denies the charges and said transfer from history class to detention occurred "only because it was my turn to do it."

Roy Bauer, chairman of the department of humanities at Irvine Valley College--one of two that the Saddleback board oversees, Saddleback College being the other--calls Frogue "an odd, Neanderthal presence on the board who's expressed an interest in Holocaust denial. He's made, and continues to make, a nuisance of himself."

Last year, Frogue incurred the wrath of several board members and a number of professors at Irvine Valley Community College when he questioned the teaching of a course on the Holocaust by criticizing the professor's ties to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.

It is that group--the ADL--that seems to be a cause celebre for Frogue, who perceives the 83-year-old human-rights organization as nothing less than a criminal violator of civil liberties and personal freedom or, as he said in an interview, a "group of spies that actively keeps files on people . . . people like me."

Frogue's critics wonder why he's taken up so much time at numerous trustees' meetings attacking the ADL, which even his supporters admit has virtually no relevance to the otherwise mundane tasks of a community college board in Orange County.

Frogue's high school students voice a similar complaint, saying his lectures are often angry diatribes against the ADL, revisionist views of this or that chapter of history or passionate speeches about who actually pulled the trigger on President Kennedy.

Frogue's theory of who killed Kennedy weaves some of the key threads in a tapestry that many say is unique--or, in the words of one adversary, "truly Frogueian."

"I believe Lee Harvey Oswald worked for the ADL," Frogue said in a half-whisper during a recent interview on the Foothill High campus.

Asked to repeat his assertion, Frogue said, "That's right. . . . I believe the ADL was behind it."

The assassination not only transformed U.S. history but also the timeline of Steven Frogue, who says he "then and there" abandoned his intention to join the Peace Corps in favor of the U.S. Marines.

Born in Oak Lawn, Ill., to a Chicago railway worker and his wife, Frogue found himself stationed at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in 1964 and "immediately fell in love" with a county he's never left.

He and his wife, an elementary school teacher, raised two sons in their Lake Forest home and with two teachers' salaries backing them paid both boys' expenses at affluent, private USC.

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