Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Lecil Slaback (1912-2013)

Lecil Slaback (left) with fellow Historical Commissioners Alan Goddard, Cecil Rospaw & Don Dobmeier, 1976
Lecil Slaback, long a key figure in the preservation and sharing of Orange County's history, died this past weekend at the age of 100.

Born in late 1912 in Santa Ana, Lecil became a "regular" at what we now call the "Old Courthouse" around 1913. His father, Lester W. Slaback -- who served as Court Reporter from 1904 until 1957 -- started taking him along to his office, next to Courtroom 1. As he got a bit older, Lecil caused a ruckus more than once when he got the big legal bookcases revolving at high speed and then jumped on for a ride.

His earliest clear memory was being taken up to the (now missing) cupola atop the Courthouse in 1916 to see the flood waters surrounding the town of Santa Ana.

Lecil started his first paying job at the Old Courthouse in 1926, working in the County Library's office, doing odd jobs.

As a young man, he sometimes worked as a typist for the courts. In this capacity he worked on all three of the Old Courthouse's most famous and precedent-setting trials: The "Whipstock" oil drilling case (People v. Termo Corp.), The Irvine Co. v. California Employment Commission, and the nationally publicized Overell murder trial. In fact, having transcribed the initial statements after the arrests of the accused, Lecil was called as a witness in the Overell trial.

After graduating from Santa Ana College, he attended the Stenotype Institute of Los Angeles, practicing his stenotype skills on the Pacific Electric trolleys as he commuted between home and school. He soon joined his father in the profession of court reporting.

When the attack on Pearl Harbor made it clear that our shores were potentially in peril, Lecil enlisted in the Coast Guard. He served as a chief warrant officer and aide to Admiral W. F. Towle of the 11th Naval District.

After the war, he returned to his court reporting job, working for Judge Robert Gardner and Judge J. E. T. Rutter. A few of the most famous cases he reported include People v. Henry Ford McCracken (1952), Yorba v. Anaheim Union Water Co. (1953), and Kraemer v. Kraemer (1959) (a water rights case, not a divorce).

Over the years, Lecil also served in positions of responsibility on a wide variety of professional and community organizations, including the Certified Shorthand Reporters Board, the board of the Santa Ana Public Library, the Santa Ana Cultural Heritage Committee, and the 1976-1977 Orange County Grand Jury.

Upon his retirement, in 1973, the Board of Supervisors appointed him to the Orange County Historical Commission. He served on that body until 1994 and played a significant role in the preservation and restoration of the Old Courthouse, which at one point was under threat of becoming a parking lot.

Lecil and his wife Neva have lived at Walnut Manor in Anaheim for about the past 15 years.

I did not know Lecil Slaback personally, but I knew him through the stories our mutual friends told, through the sizable mark he left on the local historical community, and through a short memoir he contributed to the 2010 edition of the Orange County Historical Society’s Orange Countiana journal. He’s someone I’m sorry I never got to know.

No comments: