Senior in Action – Darlene and Jeff Gidley

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 – Darlene and Jeff Gidley

As told to Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen

Question: Have your always lived and worked in California?

Darlene: Jeff is a native Californian, born in 1947 and raised in Sacramento.  I was born the same year in Northern Michigan (Upper Peninsula) and my family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin when I was 4 and then to Torrance, CA when I was 10.  I’ve lived in California ever since.

Question: Darlene and Jeff, how did you meet?

Jeff: We met in the early morning hours following the Northridge Earthquake in 1994.   Both Darlene and I were working in Emergency Management positions.  Darlene was working for Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, and I was working for the California Emergency Medical Services Authority.  My office was contacted by the Governor about an issue regarding medical evacuations, and I called L.A. County and got Darlene on the phone.  We developed a friendship over the years; our two families even vacationed at the same condominium resort in Maui a couple of times.  My wife died of cancer in 2002, and Darlene’s husband died in 2003.  I asked Darlene if she’d like to go sailing, and our relationship blossomed from friendship to romance.  I bought a single engine plane to fly from northern California where I was living to visit Darlene in southern California.  We eventually married in 2004.

Darlene: We have 5 children (adults now) and 4 grandchildren in our blended family.  Two daughters live locally, in Long Beach and Huntington Beach. Our two stepsons live in northern California and one daughter resides in Spokane, WA.

Question: Are you retired, or working?

Jeff: In 2007 I retired from my position as Deputy Adjutant General and the Commander of the California Army National Guard with the rank of Major General.  During my 37 years in the U.S. military, it was my privilege to serve with some of the most selfless and dedicated individuals I have ever known. I’m proud to have been a part of such an outstanding institution.  In my early military career, I flew a medivac helicopter during the Vietnam War, 1971-1972.  After my discharge from the Army in 1975, I joined the California Army National Guard. I was deployed to the Gulf War, based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia from December 1990 to June 1991.

Darlene: I’m also retired from a career in nursing and emergency medical services.  I started working in emergency rooms providing critical care as a Registered Nurse (RN).  I moved into the role of instructor for paramedics, and later became Assistant Director for the L.A. County Emergency Medical Services Agency.  By the time I retired, I was serving as the Director of Emergency Medical Services for Orange County.

Question: What post-retirement activities define you as “Seniors in Action”?

Darlene: It’s important to both of us to use our time to help others; our family, community and church.  We are both involved in committees and fundraising at Bay Shore Church in Long Beach.  Being retired also allows us to help our daughters when our grandchildren need to be picked up or dropped off, and we never miss an opportunity to be at their soccer games, skateboarding classes, and ballet recitals.

Jeff: Our grandson just turned 15 and has already asked me to teach him how to drive.  My granddaughter Gracie, who studies ballet, asked me to be her dance partner for the “PA” dance scheduled in June by the Huntington Dance Academy as her father has passed away.  So, I take ballet lessons with her on Monday nights.  But I draw the line at wearing tights – no way!

Darlene: We love planning travel holidays with our children and grandchildren.  A year ago, we took them to New York City, ice skating at Rockefeller Center, touring Central Park, and going to Broadway shows. This past Christmas, the family all traveled to Australia and Fiji where, among other things, we snorkeled at the Great Barrier Reef, attended Amadeus at the Sydney Opera House (documented with our family photo in front of the Sidney Opera House), climbed to the top of the Sydney Bridge and explored a remote cave in Fiji.  In February Jeff and I will be off to Kenya and Tanzania.  We love life and want to take advantage of the healthy years with which we have been blessed.

Jeff: From mid-April to September, Darlene and I live a vagabond life aboard our 50-foot trawler “Mana Kai” which is kept in a marina on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It’s our second home, but moveable. We enjoy cruising the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands and the Inside Passage to Alaska.

Question: Do you exercise together?  Who does the cooking?

Darlene: When we’re at home in Long Beach, we prefer walking to driving whenever possible, and we easily walk 20-25 miles a week.  Jeff does sit-ups, push-ups, and squats at home.  No gym.

Jeff: I never cook.  Darlene does all the cooking, which she loves, and I love to eat.  A perfect partnership, and I am happy to clean up the kitchen afterwards or serve as sous-chef when needed.

Question: Any advice for other seniors who want to stay active?

Darlene: Maintain a social network.  Use your time to help others.  Enjoy life!

Jeff: Find social stimulation activities in which you can be part of a community of people who think like you (or not!)  Make an effort to stay fit.


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