Senior in Action – Elvia Harris

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 – Elvia Harris

by Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen

Were you born in California?

No, I was born in Tucson, Arizona.  We relocated to San Diego in 1990 when my daughter was a freshman at the University of San Diego, a private Catholic University.  My husband found job listings in the area, interviewed and was hired, so we were able to stay close by. We’ve loved living in the San Diego area ever since.

It sounds like your family plays a central role in your life.

Absolutely!  I come from a family of seven; five sisters and one brother in Arizona.  My mother cooked all the time with 9 people in our household!  She showed me the way around a kitchen, and I enjoy fixing Mexican food.  My husband Eddie and I have been married for 47 years.  Eddie loves boating, and wants to be near the water in San Diego.  We recently downsized to a new home in University City, close to UCSD in La Jolla. We have two daughters, Anissa and Vanessa.  Daughter Vanessa has two sons, Patrick and Dylan.  My great-grandson Anthony just started first grade.  My daughter Anissa is fostering a newborn baby, and I have been helping her, so being forced to be homebound by COVID-19 was actually a blessing.

It’s been a nice experience to pamper our newest foster granddaughter.  We are very lucky that the whole family has remained healthy during these challenging times.  We’ve seen our neighbors spending more time in their yards and fixing their homes, even riding their bikes – very heartwarming.  A stay-at-home project I intended to tackle was organizing our family photos, but helping with our foster baby took precedence.

Do you mind telling people how old you are, and what you do to remain so active and engaged in life?

I am 75 years young.  It’s amazing how wonderful it feels to be so fully functional at age 75.  There’s a definite difference in our physical abilities today than our parents’ physical capabilities.  Hair coloring and exercising helps too!  Women have gym memberships and are more aware of what works best for our bodies.

I serve as Director and Administrator for Ms. Senior California, which brings recognition and honor to women over the age of 60.  There are typically 4-6 preliminary regional pageants before the statewide contest.  However, with coronavirus shutdowns, all our plans have been temporarily suspended for the foreseeable future.

The Ms. Senior California pageants are run entirely by volunteers.  It’s a hobby of mine.  The winner of the Ms. Senior California pageant goes on to Atlantic City, New Jersey to compete for the title of Ms. Senior America.  I was a 1st runner-up in the Ms. Senior San Diego pageant.  Peggy Padilla, Ms. Senior California 2009, recruited me to the Board of Directors.  My former career was in the beauty industry for 27 years and a salon owner for 18 years. I served on Clairol’s Hair Coloring Board of Directors for Clairol’s professional products.  It was a very natural path for me to get involved with the Ms. Senior California pageant – a good fit.  Some senior women need to be inspired.  It’s fun to wear “bling” and feel good about yourself.  I love helping women blossom at the pageants.

Another of my hobbies is singing professionally.  My group is called SOUNDS DIVINE, a vocal jazz performance troupe.  Although we produced a CD, we haven’t been able to perform gigs this year.  Prior to the pandemic, we performed at Humphrey’s on Shelter Island and as opening act for the Concerts by the Bay near Seaport Village in a big, beautiful bandshell and lawn area.  During this downtime, I decided to revamp our repertoire.  We meet via Zoom on Monday nights.  It’s great to communicate this way as we learn new technologies together.  It’s healthy to sing; singing releases endorphins and warms your heart.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with NBY readers?

Yes, I do!

Laugh out loud every day!

Be appreciative that you are still vertical.

Eat well and take care of yourself.

Look at your “senior” life as a big adventure.

Try taking your dreams and turning them into reality.

Life can be tough, but you’re a survivor.

Do something every day that allows you to keep your head clear.

At this stage in your life, just stay focused.

We’re hoping that 2021 will be the year we can get back on track with Ms. Senior California pageants.  Visit our website for more information at

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