Wylie Aitken and his wife, Bette, have always been fascinated by storytelling – the way it motivates us, the way it humanizes us.
Now, a space on the Cal State Fullerton campus named after them will help ensure that historically significant stories in Orange County and beyond can be preserved, celebrated and shared between generations.
The Bette and Wylie A. Aitken Community Hall is part of the recently opened Lawrence de Graaf Center for Oral and Public History, a component of the Department of History and the College of Human and Social Sciences at CSUF.
Established in 1968, the Public Service Archives, located at the Pollak Library of the CSUF, is a place of education, training, research and publication, and houses over 6,000 oral histories documenting the stories of people and subjects. from southern California. It is the largest archive of oral history in the state.
The Aitkens’ decision to support Lawrence de Graaf COPH was in part tied to their own academic backgrounds, as they both attended Cal State Fullerton when it opened in 1959 as Orange County State College.
As a first generation student and student of history, Wylie Aitken left school in 1963 to study at Marquette University on a scholarship and pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer.
Upon his return, Aitken settled in Santa Ana and, as a founding partner of Aitken * Aitken * Cohn, he pursued a career as a nationally recognized general counsel, with victories in a number major tort cases in its name. .
But it was his decision to stick his toe into the Orange County political scene that led Aitken to cross paths with COPH. Considered by many to be the mastermind behind Loretta Sanchez’s historic victory over longtime Republican Congressman Bob Dornan to win the 46th District seat in the United States House of Representatives in 1996, Aitken was invited by COPH to share some of his stories that came from this experience.
“As a history student, I thought it was so fascinating,” Aitken said. “There are so many untold stories that I thought, what a fascinating project and what a fascinating opportunity for individuals to record what are truly great stories.”
As the Aitken reflected on the number of stories lost each day, especially from the period of WWII, and how important it is to have a way to preserve these stories to pass on to their children and grandchildren, the couple donated $ 500,000 in October to COPH. In addition, the donation received $ 250,000 in matching funds from the $ 40 million donation made by MacKenzie Scott and her husband Dan Jewett to CSUF in July.
“There are so many stories that go untold… and it all gets lost,” Aitken said. “So this is an opportunity, especially for Orange County, to record history. There are all these great stories out there.
Aitken was in attendance on December 3 when COPH celebrated its opening to the public, an event that had special meaning for him as Lawrence de Graaf was one of his history teachers when he was in school.
“To see it come to fruition and to see that they now have the facilities, the resources and the program… to actually see it in action was very moving and very impressive,” said Aitken.
Aitken anticipates that the Bette and Wylie A. Aitken Community Hall will be used for several purposes that will advance the work of COPH, including teaching and training students and organizing meetings and planning sessions.
Most importantly, it will be a place where people can come together, share and record their unique life experiences for others to enjoy for generations to come.
“Every day we lose a story, so it’s great to see a program that we think will inspire people and train students in the techniques of recording those stories,” said Aitken. “I think it will make a major difference in what we learn. There are so many untold stories in Orange County about so many different aspects of Orange County.
“We are always learning from history,” continued Aitken. “You can’t change it, but we can certainly learn from it. “