28 Sep Senior in Action – Brigit Muller
Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Former County of LA Public Library Administrator is having the time of her life as a retiree; meeting fascinating people who are active seniors, and volunteering for Soroptimist International of Norwalk and other women’s groups.
Senior in Action – Brigit Muller
as told to Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Question: Do you consider yourself an active senior, Brigit?
I would say yes, compared to many people my age. I don’t have any serious health concerns because I walk with my dog Teddy every day, exercise three times a week at Curves, eat a healthy low-carb diet and take vitamin supplements. This summer, I visited Rock Creek, a favorite family camping area near Mammoth with my “adopted” daughter Nigora, son Erik, daughter Amy and their families. We hiked the trails and I was amazed that I managed 13,000 steps one day and 9,000 steps another. It’s motivational to exercise with family or friends.
Question: Where were you born, and what were the early influences that impacted your life?
I was born February 5, 1946 in Holstebro, Denmark when Europe was still recovering from the devastation of World War II. I loved that my father repeatedly asked my mother, “Remember what we were doing the day the war ended?” WW II ended May 5, 1945. Exactly nine months after that is my birthday, so I claim to be the first baby boomer! My father contracted tuberculosis and died when I was two years old, so my mother moved us back to her family home in Viborg. She was one of eleven children! She remarried three years later and I soon had a baby brother.
When I was ten, my parents thought it would be an adventure to move to Canada. My father made his way to Calgary on the SS Stockholm. My mother followed in November 1956 with my brother Jens and me, traveling in a propeller airplane. I was soon in school, quickly learning English. My sister Connie was born in Canada in 1957. I enjoyed my years in Canada, and played on the school’s badminton team.
In 1961 we moved to the U.S. planning to live in Phoenix. We lasted there eleven days – much too hot! We drove further west to LA; very confused by the crisscrossing freeways. I received my HS diploma at John Marshall High in Los Angeles. My neighbor invited me to a beach party in Santa Monica where I met Carl from Huntington Park. He became the love of my life!
Carl and I married in August 1964. We moved to a home in Norwalk where I still live. His parents emigrated to America from Germany and Austria. Through many visits to France, Italy, Denmark and Germany, we became very well acquainted with our European relatives. Our daughter Amy was born in 1969 and son Erik in 1976. Over the course of our marriage, we hosted numerous foreign exchange students. With his self-taught carpentry skills, Carl expanded our house from 900 square feet to 2500 square feet to accommodate our growing family and guests. Our foreign students often returned years later to visit us with their children. In fact, we heard from several former students when my daughter Amy surprised me with a 60th birthday party. The one “adopted “daughter who’s shared our home longest is Nigora from Tajikistan – 15 years and counting!
My Danish heritage has been a lifelong influence. My mother, a professional seamstress, taught me how to use the sewing machine so I sewed dresses for myself and Amy. I also knitted numerous sweaters for my children and grandchildren. My friends tease me about not being a “true Dane” because I don’t enjoy eating cheese or fish. However, I love cooking traditional Danish frikadeller (meatballs), Danish red cabbage and roast pork, aebleskiver (Danish pancakes), and rice pudding for Christmas. Every year, I organize a trip to Solvang with my former colleagues from Bellflower Unified School District. We picnic together at a favorite winery, and attend the summer outdoor musical theater.
Being an immigrant who needed to learn English probably influenced my career choice. I enrolled at Cerritos College, then majored in Geography at CSU Long Beach, earning my teaching credential. I taught German and English in Whittier for a few years, then taught at Mayfair High in Lakewood. Eventually I worked at Bellflower Unified School District office writing grant proposals. I returned to college and earned an Administrative Credential. Over the years my grant proposals brought $18 million to the district. It’s very satisfying that my efforts made a difference for students.
Question: What are your hobbies and interests now that you’re retired?
I take care of my home and garden, walk my dog, spend time with friends, and visit family. Amy and her husband John have three children; the oldest son has graduated from Chapman, where his brother is now attending. The youngest is a high school senior. They live in Palos Verdes. Our son Erik went to Cornell for graduate school and I begged him, “Do not meet a New York girl and marry her.” Instead, he did exactly that; met Yizhi and married her. They live on Long Island, NY with their daughter who is twelve. Our travels back east gave us the opportunity to explore: Williamsburg, Jamestown, Boston, Lexington, Concord, Rhode Island, and more. And I’ll be visiting Long Island for the second time in December, hoping for a white Christmas. In August 2021, the whole family met in Rock Creek, CA to relive the many summers our family camped there when Carl was alive. My husband of 55 years died of cancer in 2019.
I volunteered for Soroptimist International of Norwalk in the 80s and 90s, helping to raise funds for low-income senior housing and scholarships for women. These days, I prefer being a supporter who attends Soroptimist fundraisers, rather than planning them. My advice for other seniors is to build a social network – eat healthy meals with family or friends when possible, and find an exercise buddy.