Senior in Action – Dale Petrulis

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 – Dale Petrulis

by Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen


Dale Petrulis, age 74, is a native Californian who has spent all except  1 ½ years living in the golden state.  Her parents met as graduate students at USC, married and settled down in southern California.  They gave their two daughters non-gendered names, Jan and Dale; not typical at that time.  Dale’s cultural heritage is Jewish, tracing back to her grandmother in Estonia, although she did not receive formal Jewish religious training.  Her cousins, aunts, and uncles all attended college because education was considered extremely important.  Her Great-Uncle was a composer, and Dale inherited his piano, proudly displayed in her living room.  Dale remembers her parents being very active in Democratic politics, and hosting work parties where Dale would help stuff envelopes and affix stamps.  She met many interesting and well-educated people from all backgrounds and ethnicities.

Dale attended UCLA, majoring in English with a minor in Chicano and Black Studies with the goal of becoming an Educator who could level the learning field for all children.  During her early teaching years, she met Ken, a naval lieutenant stationed in Long Beach.  After a very short dating period, Ken was sent to Viet Nam, and they began “dating” through the mail.  When he returned and proposed, Dale accepted, based on their short bursts of time together and their daily correspondence.  Ken was again deployed, and returned a week before their wedding on August 28, 1971 and left on his final deployment the very next day!  Upon returning, he was released from the Navy to complete his law school studies.  In December, they moved to Urbana, Illinois where Ken completed his law degree coursework.  Dale taught special needs children at the Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois until Ken graduated, then they returned to southern California.  She needed a Master’s Degree to advance in her teaching career in California, but daytime classes did not accommodate her needs as a full-time teacher and parent with two preschool children.  Dale found 29 other working adults like herself who wanted to attend night school and convinced Pepperdine to start a night and weekend Master’s Program in Early Childhood Education.

After Dale achieved her Master’s Degree, there was no stopping her.  She taught in Palos Verdes and then applied for a Principal position and got the job.  It was a tough commute from West L.A. to PV every day for five years, so Dale accepted a position working for Santa Monica/Malibu School District.  After working for 8 years with students at the highest economic levels, Dale craved a different form of job satisfaction.  She wanted to help students with fewer resources find success. She moved to Culver City School District as principal, where she wrote a California Healthy Start grant.  The grant provided multiple resources for all the district families and staff.   Through community partners, the grant provided mental health resources, adult school classes, enrichment opportunities for  children, parental job training, access to medical insurance, homework assistance, tutorials and more.  It was one of six programs recognized nationally for community collaborative work.   “It was the most fun of any job I had, and the results were the best of any site I supervised,” Dale said.

Her next career move was to Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) where she helped set-up 80 hours of literacy training for all teachers in the 450 elementary schools.  This was a huge challenge in a district where 75% of children lived in poverty. Another job within LAUSD was in the Partnership and Civic Engagement Office, building   partnerships with outside agencies. One of those partners was a non-profit, BRING ME A BOOK. Following her retirement, Dale began working as a grant writer for BRING ME A BOOK, building partnerships with early childhood programs across Southern California.     Eventually, BRING ME A BOOK joined with South Bay Center for Counseling. Mostly operating in Long Beach, their most popular services concentrated in five areas; 1. Gifting 30 books in a book case to schools and day care centers, 2. Parent training, 3 Preschool teacher training, 4. A Take-Home Book Bag program with activities in English & Spanish, and 5. Distributing new books to children and families who have few, if any books, in their homes.  The pandemic devastated school-based programs.     However, the Take-Home Book Bag program and Parent Training continues to this day.  Dale shared, “I always have been a reader.  My dad would take me to the library and I was allowed to borrow the limit, ten books.  These days, I love reading on my Kindle because I can take it with me everywhere I go.  Whenever I have a couple minutes to wait somewhere, I open my Kindle and start reading.”

Dale and her husband Ken raised two children; Jason (named after actor Jason Robards who starred in Jason & The Argonauts), and Denise (the only name on both parents’ lists of favorite names).     Jason is now an adult, married to Elizabeth and they live in Hong Kong where both Jason and Elizabeth are history professors.  Elizabeth initiated the women and gender studies program at the University of Hong Kong, and is an East Asian specialist.   Their daughter Clio (named after the Greek goddess of History) is 13 years old and fluent in Mandarin and Hebrew.  Grandparents Dale and Ken visited Clio and her parents in Hong Kong frequently before the pandemic.  Currently, Zoom and WhatsApp must suffice in lieu of hugs.  Daughter Denise lives in Marina del Rey, and works for LINC Housing, a 501c3 organization specializing in building low-income housing.  Denise is vegan, so Dale enjoys being adventurous and preparing vegan dishes when Denise visits.  Dale’s pride and joy is her gourmet kitchen built 20 years ago featuring every shade of green, and her drought tolerant garden.

Dale and Ken, her husband of 50 years, are grateful for the mentors who helped them find professional success.  While he served as President of the Beverly Hills Bar Association, Ken and Dale initiated a scholarship for law students. The selected recipients were presented with the scholarship at an annual Supreme Court Luncheon.   Ken is retired from his practice as a Trust and Estate planning attorney, but still continues his charitable work with the Beverly Hills Bar Association.  He was a past president of the Beverly Hills Bar, and continues his participation through the Beverly Hills Bar Foundation.  His work with the Bar provides satisfaction and joy.

Nelson Mandela said, “We can change the world and make it a better place.  It is in your hands to make a difference.” Dale and Ken are wonderful role models, determined to leave the world a better place.

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