Saddleback Secrets at the Pioneer Round-Up

Rounding up El Toro's pioneers would be one thing. Keeping their attention with just one "Saddleback Secret"—even if it is a good one—would be another!

Today I'd like to make yet another disclaimer—two of them, in fact.

First, I'm not a member of any of the El Toro pioneer families. 

And second, I'm not a public speaker.

Still, if you were walking up to the Heritage Hill Historical Park entrance a week ago Sunday, sometime after 2 p.m., and happened to notice the Pioneer Round-Up/Saddleback Area Historical Society signage and hear somebody speaking into a microphone—well, that was yours truly, talking over by the picnic tables to a group of about 50. 

So, given that I'm not a pioneer or a speaker . . . how did that happen?


As Miss Black, my high school gym teacher, used to say, "I need volunteers—you, you, and you."

Which is basically how I came to speak not only at this year's Pioneer Days celebration, but last year's as well.

Okay, I admit that writing a column called El Toro & Before for Lake Forest Patch does somewhat qualify me. And, for five or six years, volunteering at the SAHS library and immersing myself in local lore, as well as serving as a docent at Helena Modjeska's home in the canyon for about a decade. 

As Miss Black might say, "Now there's a perfect set-up!"

But as I admitted in my opening comments, I grew up in another part of Orange County . . . in Orange—or the City of Orange, as it now is typically called. And although my maternal grandparents could be termed "pioneers" who made their living from citrus ranching—well, they were based out of another "El"—El Modena, rather than El Toro.

So when I spoke before last week's group, which included members from the Osterman, Bennett, and Prothero families, among others, you definitely could say that I was humbled.

Still, it was a great opportunity to share some of my El Toro & Before experiences from the past year.  And I did have a captive crowd.


Perhaps it was the hook of "Saddleback Secrets"—a title not my own—which drew 'em in.  

But as I admitted, I'm not really into becoming the TMZ of Saddleback Valley. 

And if someone shares a confidence, I’m not going to divulge it . . . though if certain information is a part of public record—as, for example, Lewis Moulton's first marriage, before he met Nellie Gail—then that's another matter.

The only "secret" I did divulge at the Pioneer Days meeting, in fact, was one I'd found, salted away in a Joe Osterman book.

At some point, Joe says, there was a fad among El Toro farmers to get an all-over tan. So, being a practical group, they took to performing their plowing and other field chores in their birthday suits.

"One hopes they were at least wearing their boots," I added.

Speaking of interesting vistas, at some point the subject of a website featuring aerial views of United States communities, decade by decade—El Toro/Lake Forest included—came up. So if you'd like to check it out, here's the website plus the column in which it first appeared. 


Despite a lack of "secrets," I continued, it had been an eventful year since I'd last spoken at the October 2011 Pioneer Round-Up.

For one thing, I’d learned to pronounce "Osterman" correctly.

(This to loud cheers and applause from that family's section; for the record, it's a long-o-as-in-snow, rather that a short-o-as-in-frost, i.e., the Osterizer brand.) 

I’d also met some terrific folks and visited some interesting places. 

In the first category? Talking with Bonnie Bennett Hendrie about her mother's glass collection and visiting Gladys Prothero and her paintings of old El Toro are among my favorite 2012 experiences. Included in the latter? Learning about the former site of the Osterman family's Rancho Allegra, now surrounded by business development, but still retaining the original barn and one of the residences.

Then there’s the matter of Clara Mason Fox, El Toro's first historian. In recent months I've enjoyed reviewing the manuscript of a book about Clara, now in the publication stage, which was researched and written by local educator Lorraine Passero. Her husband, in fact, just happens to be one of Clara's great-great nephews!

An exhibit of Clara's beautiful depictions of California native plants will be part of an exhibit at San Marino's famed Huntington Library this coming spring. The exhibit, as the Huntington's website states, is a collaborative project of the Huntington, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, and the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants.  


While on the subject of collaborative efforts, I also mentioned my gratitude to a number of folks who've helped me with this column, providing information, photographs, and feedback.

Among them are the rangers and other staff of Heritage Hill Historical Park, the El Toro pioneers and their families, and, of course, you the readers of El Toro & Before. In fact after the meeting it was a pleasure to meet and talk with several of you!

I also spoke about my parents. My father, who grew up in upstate New York, met my mother, a "local girl" from El Modena, in 1953 while stationed at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station

Their timetable turned out to be somewhat progressive, as they met in January, became engaged in February, married in March . . . and then, about a year later, I came along.

So although I don’t qualify as an El Toro pioneer, one could say my genesis occurred under the El Toro name—and, that it's great to be back!


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