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“You can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.”

Mary Ellen Goddard at the Costa Mesa Historical Society in Orange County, California
Photo: Brandy Young

“I first fell in love with local history back in Iowa. We were out in the country and lived across the road from an old schoolhouse – I could see it through the trees in the wintertime. I would sit and wonder what life was like in that schoolhouse back before I got there. It really solidified my interest in local history.

“With local history, everything is so hands-on. I get to handle the original documents and artifacts, which is exciting for me. I also love taking oral history because it brings the stories alive. National history – or state history – that’s so ‘arm’s-length.’ Everything interesting is tucked behind glass, so you lose a lot of the intimacy.

“When we moved to Costa Mesa from Iowa in 1977, I decided to join the local historical society. We didn’t have the museum, yet; we didn’t have an office. All we had was a storage container. Betty Beecher and I used to work in there. It was dirty – it was hot – and the sweat would be pouring down. There was no place to use the bathroom or get a drink of water. It was pretty nasty.

“Finally in 1981, we got this building. It was formerly a bank up on Adams, by Piecemakers. They actually scooped it up and moved it over here. Originally, they weren’t going to give us the part that contained the bank’s vault. But Betty said, ‘I just won’t take it without the vault,’ so they gave in and we got it! My heart goes out to other societies that don’t have a base of operations like this. It makes a big difference. We’re able to do tons of things we never would have accomplished without it.

“Local history is important because you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. The past dictates future possibilities and that shouldn’t be underrated. Also, learning about the history of your area can help you feel more connected to your city.

“My message for Costa Mesa is that you don’t have to get involved in local politics to make a difference. That’s just one of many ways you can jump in and make your city better. Focus on improving the lives of others and you’ll end up improving your own life in the process.” ♥

– Mary Ellen Goddard, Mesa Verde Resident, Head Archivist at Costa Mesa Historical Society

About The Author

Hearts of Costa Mesa

Hearts of Costa Mesa is a curated journey through the rich diversity of Costa Mesa life. We'll be sharing vignettes and stories through the reflections of Costa Mesa's residents and regulars. This is an ongoing project, a tapestry we'll continue to weave over time. Please contact us through the website if you'd like to participate. Read all the Hearts of Costa Mesa vignettes here.

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