26 May Senior in Action – Colleen Edmondson
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.
Re: photo taken in front of the waterfall:
The waterfall picture was taken at Mendenhall Lake in Alaska when we took our boat up
Senior in Action – Colleen Edmondson
by Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Photos were provided by Colleen Edmondson.
What are you doing to remain active?
Colleen: (laughing): Do you want to talk with me all day? I just turned 88 years old and am involved in so many activities; tutoring adults in literacy at Downey Library, volunteering at Bethel Church, Bible study, membership in a woman’s philanthropic educational organization (P.E.O.), teaching piano lessons, book club, walking, baking, traveling… where shall I start?
Tell NBY readers about your background and family.
Colleen: I was born in Berne, Indiana. My home town was founded by devout Mennonites who emigrated from Switzerland. A missionary from Africa spoke to our youth group during a monthly mission meeting at First Mennonite Church. I was so moved by the idea of sharing Jesus’ love with African children, that I promised God I would be a missionary too. When I graduated from Wheaton College in 1958, La Puente School District in California was recruiting teachers from Wheaton College. I signed a contract, bought a used Chevy for $300 and drove out to California with my parents. My mother said, “California is a long way from Indiana. Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with somebody and stay there!” After I taught for two years, I felt qualified to become a missionary. However, by 1960, missionaries were not being placed in Africa due to political unrest. I met my future husband at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, and my mother’s advice went out the window. I taught elementary school for 5 years then stayed home to raise our three children: Steve, Sara and Rachel. Our adult children have blessed me with three talented grandsons: Cartell, Nathan and Joshua.
At age 70, I finally fulfilled my promise to go to Africa at the invitation of Dr. Arthur Ammann. He knew I was passionate about Africa after talking at a college reunion. While there, I met his friend Mary Ann McCoy, whose focus was EDUCATION. MaryAnn McCoy founded Children of Grace, a nonprofit with a mission to “demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ by providing hope to orphans and other vulnerable children affected by poverty and AIDS through education, healthcare, mentorship, and empowerment programs to enable a better future.” When I saw the faces of children unable to afford school uniforms and supplies, which prevented them from attending school, it moved me to sponsor ten children. Two years later, I was invited to visit the children in Uganda sponsored by our family. Before leaving, I added ten more students. At that time, the cost to sponsor a child was $28 per month, but it has increased over the years.
The money I’ve invested in Ugandan children has multiplied. Some students have become teachers themselves. Saleh is on his way to becoming a doctor (as he says in his letters “Lord willing!”), another provides microfinance loans. I’ve kept in touch with the students during their education years and beyond. WhatsApp allows me to stay up-to-date, receive photos and notes. Prior to social media, we relied on letters for communication. I traveled to Uganda six times; most recently in January 2023 when I spent three weeks in Uganda visiting my sponsored children.
Which childhood experiences had the most influence on your adult life?
Colleen: I credit my music teacher, Freeman Burkhalter, for my love of music. I took piano lessons from his sister and played clarinet in the high school band. The band marched in the local parade and held concerts. I sang in our high school’s A Capella choir, directed by Mr. Burkhalter, which competed and won numerous awards. Would you like to hear me sing Berne High School’s alma mater song? I still remember it. Now I teach piano lessons to children in my home on my baby grand piano.
Attending the Mennonite Church was a huge influence. Mennonites believe in service to others as a witness to God’s love for the world. I’ve taught Sunday School for fifty years, and led Bible studies in my home with small groups. My husband David and I went on mission trips after his retirement through the nonprofit REACH BEYOND to countries such as India, Thailand, Egypt, and South Africa. These trips allowed us to experience firsthand how Christian radio, clinics, and volunteers share the gospel with the world.
You mentioned baking, teaching literacy at Downey Library and learning Spanish as your hobbies. Could you elaborate?
Colleen: It feeds my soul to have a purpose. During the pandemic, I baked desserts and shared them with neighbors and friends to stay connected. I still love to bake and share! I tutor adults at Downey Library who need help learning to read. These people become my friends, and enrich my life beyond measure. In the photo, the girl beside me is Falda, a 10-year-old Ugandan girl. Her clothing was donated by the 10-year-old daughter of a Guatemalan man who I tutor at Downey Library. When I talked with his family about my trip to Uganda, they wanted to help and share clothing. I use the language app Duo Lingo to teach myself Spanish because it’s good for my brain and helps me communicate with people beginning to learn English. I’d like to close with a quote from Saleh, the Ugandan doctor-in-training, “All glory and thanks be to the Almighty because He has brought us far.”
For more information about sponsoring a child in Uganda through Children of Grace, visit https://childrenofgrace.com
If interested in overseas mission trips, visit https://reachbeyond.org/short-term-missions-experiences