01 May Senior in Action – Greg Gunter
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 – Greg Gunter
by Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
“A big part of my 69 years of life has revolved around my business, which I’ve run for 48 years: Greg’s Auto Body. I grew up in Pico Rivera, and a guy down the street did custom auto painting in his garage. I loved hanging out and helping him. I was drafted at age 19 and went to Vietnam. When I came back in 1970, I started my auto repair business with my Army buddy, until he moved on. I ran the business on my own for ten years.”
Prior to his Army stint, Greg attended El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera. He recalled there were many shop classes back then: electrical, wood shop, auto mechanics, etc. to provide opportunity for “hands-on” guys like Greg. He appreciates the skills learned in those shop classes which gave him the means to earn a living and support his future family.
Greg shared this story of how he met his wife Barbara. “An Army buddy asked me to go to New York City with him. I was excited about visiting NY and told him yes. But another friend of mine said, ‘Wait a minute! You promised to stand up at my wedding. You can’t go.’ I reluctantly cancelled my travel plans and participated in the wedding party. My partner in that wedding became my future bride, my wife for 45 years. Barbara and I have four daughters. My daughters gave me three grandsons and one granddaughter.”
Greg spent two years in the Army in Vietnam working as a clerk, then a keypunch operator, then as inventory control specialist at Qui Nhon. Known as an “R&R” center, the Qui Nhon supply base had a miniature golf course, a pool, a movie theater, and other amenities. Greg opted for an early out, as he never felt completely safe. After he left, the movie theater at Qhi Nhon was bombed, killing twenty-five U.S. soldiers.
Greg’s two years in the Army eventually had a devastating impact on his life back home. In Vietnam, he was exposed to Agent Orange, the chemical herbicide used to clear jungle growth around bases to keep them safe from Viet Cong attacks. Exposed to deadly dioxin in Agent Orange, Greg has suffered from diabetes, heart attack, kidney disease, and cancer. On August 9, 2017 he received a heart and kidney transplant at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Greg takes 25 pills a day so his body will not reject the new organs, but says, “I’m HERE.”
How does Greg maintain an active senior lifestyle? Since moving to his home in La Habra Heights in 1997, he spends most of his free time landscaping his full acre lot and caring for his dwarf fruit trees in the back yard, which include fig, nectarine, apricot, blood orange, pomegranate, banana and more. Each morning, Greg takes a photo of the sunrise from his back yard in La Habra Heights and posts it on Facebook for his friends and family, grateful for another day. Greg says, “The worst day of my life never happened. I don’t worry about the past, it’s water under the bridge. Life is good.”