The Murdys

Heritage - MurdyJohn and Norma Murdy gave to our church the property on which our sanctuary, fellowship hall and educational building are now located. But their contribution also helped shape our character as a congregation, for John A. Murdy, Jr. was a State Senator during his years at Community Church, and our traditions of community service can be traced, in a significant way, to his career in public life. John Murdy, Jr. was born in his family home in Potter County, near Tolstoy, South Dakota on March 25,1900, one of twelve children. The family moved to Perris Valley, California, in 1905, and to Westminster in 1912. He completed his elementary education at Westminster grammar school, as valedictorian in 1914. Later at Huntington Beach High School, he had the lead in the junior-class play, “Esmerelde”‘; was appointed athletic manager for interscholastic games; was a member of the debate team; all the time helping after school on the family farm in Westminster.

After his graduation from high school in 1918, Murdy enlisted in the Army and attended Officer’s Training School in Field Artillery at Camp Zachary Taylor near Louisville, Kentucky, until the Armistice was signed in November. For the next two years he studied in the College of Agriculture at the University of California at Davis, and sang in, and was president of, the University glee club. After working on a farm near Stockton for a year, he returned to Orange County and started a small dairy farm. On October 25, 1922, he married Norma Emma Lorbeer, whom he had met at Huntington Beach High School. She had been in the junior-class play with him, and an older sister, Beth, with whom she lived, was a teacher in the high school. Norma was born in Pomona, California, on March 21, 1899, the youngest of four children. Her mother died when she was six, and her father when she was fourteen, so she had come to Huntington Beach to be with her sister.

With money borrowed from the First National Bank of Garden Grove, the Murdy’s purchased farm land in what is now Huntington Beach, and their home was located at 6662 Heil Avenue. After three years in the dairy business, Murdy switched to raising open field crops, sugar beets, lima beans and alfalfa, and later he had orange orchards. He served as president of the Smeltzer Lima Bean Growers Association, president of the California Lima Bean Growers Association and a member of the Board of Directors of the Orange County Production Credit Association. During the earlier years, as John and Norma Murdy were establishing their farm and struggling through the depression, they were blessed with three children-Dorothy, Maxine and Jack (John A. Murdy, III).

According to the “Record of Members”, John Murdy joined Community Methodist Church on April 16, 1922, just oven six months before he and Norma were married. She joined Community UMC the following year, on June 24, 1923. Norma taught Sunday School classes through the years, and participated in the women’s groups of the church. John was a frequent maker of motions, recorded in the minutes of the Official Board and Quarterly Conferences over several decades. He early demonstrated the leadership skills, which would later be evident in his years of public service, as he chaired the Official Board, the Board of Trustees, and held other offices of the church. Rev. Roger Betsworth declared that “John and Norma Murdy not only gave the land for the church, but they also had a great vision of what a church should be. There was a bracero camp a few blocks south of the church on Gothard. A Mexican pastor asked if their church, which served the braceros, could meet in our building on Sunday evenings. The question was raised in the Trustee meeting about the extra utility and cleaning bills. Right away John Murdy said that we ought to take care of that; it was the least we could do for the migrant workers who were so poor. So, until we left the old church, the Spanish-speaking service continued there each Sunday evening.

In March of 1946, John Murdy was elected to the Board of Directors of a new hospital the Presbyterian Church was seeking to establish in the beach area. Initially, he served on the Finance Committee and chaired the Building Committee. He negotiated with the Hoag family to join hands with the Presbyterian Church to build the hospital, to be named Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian. It was dedicated in 1952, with seven members of the Board of Directors to be from Hoag Foundation, and seven from the Presbyterian Church. Murdy, the 15th member, belonged to neither group and was elected president, serving in this capacity until 1967. He also served as a Trustee of Whittier College from 1949 until 1970.

In 1952 John Murdy was elected to the California State Senate, winning both the Republican and Democratic nominations in an upset during the primary elections (at that time candidates could cross file and run on both tickets). He served the 35th Senatorial District until 1964, when he retired undefeated due to failing health (Parkinson’s disease). While in the Senate, under Governors Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight, and Pat Brown, Sr., he served on the Finance, Rules, Agriculture, Water, and Education Committees. He took a key role in the legislative process for the establishment of the University of California at Irvine, and California State University at Fullerton. One of his most important pieces of legislature for Orange County was known as the Murdy Pump Tax, providing that for every acre foot of water used, a similar amount must be put back into the underground basin. In 1963, he was recognized as the outstanding government official by the Orange County Property Owners Association, and named the Orange County Press Club Headliner for public service.

But for Community Church, John and Norma Murdy will always be appreciated, above all, for donating the property on which the present church stands. This act of generosity is commemorated in a bronze plaque near the Bell Tower.

But even more, Senator John Murdy left his imprint on the spirit and traditions of Community Church, through his devotion to public service. Through the years our congregation has supported social agencies and encouraged community service, in keeping with a great heritage.

(This historical narrative was compiled from family members by Rev. Galal Gough and delivered by him during a Founder’s Day celebration on January 10, 1988, one week after the death of pioneer member Charles Applebury. Pioneers Ruth Slater and John Murdy were still living at the time.)