03 May Senior in Action – Lilly Chen Loo
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 – Lilly Chen Loo
as told to Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Lilly: “I was born in mainland China during World War II in 1940. My parents moved us to a southwestern province of China to avoid bombing by the Japanese. In 1946, we moved to Taiwan. Most of my Schooling took place in Taiwan, from 3rd Grade through college. I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Foreign Language and Literature in 1960 from National Taiwan University. My hobby as a young girl was collecting international postage stamps, which prompted dreams of a career that would take me around the world. I emigrated to the United States in March 1961 and received my Master’s Degree in Library Science from USC in 1963.”
“My husband Brian and I met in the U.S. through church friends. He was asked to give me a ride to an event, and that was the beginning of our six-decade-long relationship. I guess you could say I’m very loyal, because I also had only one employer during my entire career; Los Angeles County Public Library. I was hired as a Children’s Librarian at Bellflower Library in 1963, and enjoyed a fulfilling career that spanned 32 years minus two short leaves of absence when our son Ray was born, then daughter Sandra. After the second maternity leave, I worked at La Mirada Library to be closer to our home in Brea. As my children grew older, I promoted to more responsible positions, and supervised more library employees. By 1981, I was Regional Administrator, supervising operations of 18 libraries in southeast L.A. County.”
“Working for a large library system provided the opportunity to experience different library specialties and receive on-going training. Bill Kinman was my mentor. Early on, at a staff meeting Mr. Kinman said, “Leadership does not need to come from above. If you have good ideas, take the initiative and follow through to turn your ideas into reality.” I never forgot that advice. I initiated customer service training for all levels of staff. I also learned to pay attention to facility issues in library buildings needing renovations. This taught me the value of good maintenance and quality control in everything from flooring to lighting.”
“In 1988, I began having difficulty losing weight. A neighbor suggested Weight Watchers. My perseverance at sticking to WW’s plan paid off. I achieved my goal weight, and reached lifetime membership. I am very proud to have maintained my goal weight since 1988. I even motivated several library co-workers to lose weight through Weight Watchers.”
“While I enjoyed library work, I LOVE retirement. Tennis at the Los Coyotes Country Club was a favorite pastime, until running around the court took a toll on my knees. “It’s time to start golf lessons,” I told Brian. We took lessons for a year before we ventured onto a golf course. One “Ladies Day,” I had a lucky hole-in-one. My friends and I teed off, then let a more experienced foursome play through. We heard a raucous commotion when they reached the hole, and they called out to let us and said there was a ball in the cup. It was mine! Fluke or not, I enjoyed claiming that hole-in-one! These days, I get outdoors to play golf twice a week. “
“After Brian retired from Boeing, we took adult education classes in photography. Our class took a field trip to Coronado to practice photography with changing natural lighting. During our early photography outings, I felt like Brian’s caddy, handing him lenses. He seemed to be having more fun than me, so I bought my own camera. I took my first Nikon camera to New England’s Acadia National Park; gorgeous and breath-taking. On a fabulous trip to Kenya, we spent 13 days waking before dawn in hopes of capturing photos of wild animals at the Maasai Mara National Reserve. On a visit to mainland China, Brian snapped a photo of me standing dangerously close to an elderly panda at the Panda Reserve. That framed shot hangs in my living room with other favorite travel photos.
Brian and I shared many common interests: tennis, golf, travel, photography, gourmet eating, and ballroom dancing. We were married almost 57 years before he died of lung cancer. Bridge is the only hobby where I go it alone and I play bridge several times a week here at Morningside where I live. I recently moved to Morningside, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Fullerton, and hope to live independently for many years. Besides playing bridge, I keep my brain active through book club. Lively book discussions with retired librarian friends keep me engaged in lifelong learning.
“I feel blessed that our two children and five grandchildren are doing well in their chosen professions. Our son, Ray Loo, is pastor at Santa Fe Springs Calvary Chapel. Ray and Cynthia’s son, Stephen, works at SpaceX, following his grandfather’s footsteps. Their 3 daughters are Alyssa, a graphic artist; Abigail, a nurse; and Kahleen, a student at CSU Long Beach. Our daughter Sandra is Pediatric Neuropsychology Director at UCLA. Sandra and her husband Michael have a son, Antonio Sellitto, a student at Syracuse University. Our family completes my joy in life.”