03 Jul Senior in Action – Gordon Stefenhagen
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 – Gordon Stefenhagen
Born in 1942 during World War II, Gordon grew up in Downers Grove, Illinois. As an only child, he spent considerable time with nearby cousins on his mother’s side of the family. Card games were a popular pastime in the winter and picnic trips to area lakes, in summer. His parents were both active members of the Moose Lodge, where he attended many fundraising dinners and played pinball. Watching the Lawrence Welk show on TV with the folks was a weekly ritual. During his teens and 20s, Gordon worked at National “T” market, bagging groceries and stocking shelves. “My buddy and I used to go out on Friday night, report to work for our early AM shift and take a quick nap on the check-out belt before our supervisor arrived,” he reported. Gordon was fascinated with cars and liked to race down country roads when he could get away with it; perhaps because Uncle Wally was a DuPage County Sheriff.
After graduation from Downers Grove High School in 1960, Gordon attended Lyon Township Junior College for his AA, then commuted by train to the downtown Chicago DePaul University campus for business classes. He graduated in 1967 with a BA in Business. Gordon was faced with the Vietnam War and a low draft number, so he enlisted in the U.S. Army, got a new haircut and started basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Fortunately, Gordon was stationed at South Korea’s DMZ (demilitarized zone), where he taught GIs how to pass their GED tests, rather South Vietnam.
Gordon accepted a credit department position with Swift Fresh Meats & Company after his honorable discharge from the Army. His territory included California, Oregon and Washington, so he packed his 1970 Dodge Charger RT and sped west, relocating in Downey, California. Gordon traveled frequently and conducted business by telephone. When Swift expanded and asked Gordon to relocate to Texas, he replied, “Thanks, but no thanks!”. Gordon enrolled at Cerritos College in real estate classes. He took to heart the advice of his Real Estate professor, “You know you’ve made it when you are a million dollars in debt.” Gordon began investing in real estate and never looked back.
In the 1980s, Gordon became a realtor at Norwalk Realty, and moved to the City of Norwalk. He bought a home for his parents, Marge and Rudy; the first house they ever owned. His friend Lucille Colln encouraged him to volunteer on the City of Norwalk Rental Mediation Board. Eventually, he ran for a seat on Norwalk City Council and served 18 years as Councilmember with four terms as Mayor.
Although he no longer serves on Norwalk’s City Council, Gordon has not retired from real estate. Property managers are considered “essential” during the Covid-19 pandemic, as people want plumbing, A/C, electricity, etc. functioning when quarantined at home, and at age 78 he still works 40+ hours. Gordon continues his community volunteerism as well. As President of Norwalk Community Coordinating Council, he’s helped raise thousands of dollars for non-profits serving Norwalk, and established an annual Veterans Scholarship to financially assist Cerritos College vets. A Friends of the Norwalk Libraries member, Gordon helped raise funds to support library programs since the mid 1990s, and was named Citizen of the Year by the. County of L.A Public Library in the 1990s. He met his wife, Marilee when she was Norwalk Library Manager. He says, “I checked out the librarian instead of the books, and never returned her.”
Gordon maintains his family ties through frequent trips to Illinois. He and Marilee enjoy Chicago food tours, museums, and sightseeing. Gordon introduced Marilee to country western music, and both appreciate live concerts featuring their favorite country singers. Gordon and Marilee share their home with three rescue cats, and Gordon is a loyal supporter of animal rescue groups. His advice to seniors is: “Stay active! If you want to work part-time or full-time, do it. Or volunteer; there are lots of wonderful organizations needing your talent and time. Pay attention to what’s happening in your city.”