01 Aug Senior in Action – Mamie Yong Maywhort
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 – Mamie Yong Maywhort
by Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen
Q: What would you like to share with NBY readers about your background?
I don’t know much about my ancestral roots as my parents never talked about them; however, my father, mother, and my older sister fled Communist China to seek a new life in Hong Kong. My father left first, followed by my mother with my older sister in tow, a baby at the time, circa 1955.
I was born in Hong Kong in May of 1956 and attended Catholic school, taught by nuns. Hong Kong was under British rule. Shortly after I turned 8, my parents decided to emigrate to the United States to give their children a better life, and I will forever be grateful. We literally left Hong Kong with just the clothes on our backs, sponsored by my grandfather, who had been sponsored by his father. My Great-grandfather provided hard physical labor as a railroad worker, and my Grandfather was a restaurant parking lot attendant.
Our first home in America was in Chicago. My siblings and I attended public school. In 1969 the family moved to LA for my father’s new job. In 1970, my parents purchased a Chinese restaurant in Santa Ana. I have no doubt this is the reason I don’t like to cook! My parents were the cooks, and the children were the dish washers, vegetable choppers, servers, bussers, and cashiers. You name it – we did it! I even handled the bookkeeping and payroll. My father’s CPA taught me how to do payroll, and back in the day everything was done manually. I flipped through the IRS booklet to calculate the taxes and write checks for my father to sign.
I graduated from Santa Ana High School in 1974, and since I am definitely left-brain dominant, I majored in Business at Chapman College. I was fortunate to receive a scholarship, however it came with pressure to make sure I kept my grades up. It wasn’t easy to carry a full course load and also work at the same time. I worked part-time at the May Co. then later as a part-time drive-up teller near campus. In May 1978, I received my BA degree in Business Administration and Economics from Chapman.
After college, I worked briefly at Union Bank in a program that could lead to a career in commercial lending; however, it was not for me. I applied for the position of Assistant to the Controller with American Learning Corporation in Huntington Beach and was hired. That was the beginning of my accounting career. I worked at American Learning from 1980-1984. People often ask why I didn’t become a CPA. My answer is always, “I don’t want to get stressed out every year during tax season.” But, all kidding aside, I never wanted to be a CPA, and private accounting has served me well.
After leaving American Learning, I landed a job with Nexxus Products Company as a products representative, marketing Nexxus products to beauty salons. I was the company’s first female representative, and was awarded a trip to Maui for my sales performance in my first year. Unfortunately, my time at Nexxus was cut short following a back injury.
In 1986, I returned to accounting with a radiology group. I learned quickly what they say about doctors being terrible at running the business side of their practice is TRUE! However, that gave me the opportunity to put my business and organizational skills to work and my career took off from there. In 1993, I left the group when the managing partner retired.
I started my own consulting business providing CFO level and HR services to small/medium sized businesses. During this time, I also taught Computerized Accounting to adults at the Orange County Regional Occupational Program in La Palma; an extremely rewarding experience.
In 2005, I closed down my consulting business to focus on my non-profit, Homefront America. The organization is an all-volunteer grassroots 501c3 military outreach and support organization serving active-duty service members and their families from all branches of the military.
Marilee: What prompted your desire to start a nonprofit?
The events of 9/11 changed my life forever, like it did for many others. I needed to DO more than simply write a check. I am a “hands-on” person and wanted to support the young men and women who were willing to put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. Living close to Camp Pendleton, I saw countless families left behind, and children saying goodbye to their parents; always heart-wrenching.
In 2005, I met a WWII and Korean War Navy Seabee. His name was Art Hasselbrink, and he convinced me to start Homefront America. With the blessing of my husband, Adam, our home became Homefront America’s office for the next 7 years.
In 2012, we moved our office to downtown San Juan Capistrano. Sadly, in 2019 Art passed away at the age of 92. Today, after 17 years, Homefront America remains strong and committed to serving those who serve our country by providing programs to ensure the needs of our military service members and their families are met. Our programs include, “Back to School” backpacks filled with grade appropriate school supplies, Halloween “trunk & treat” goodies, Thanksgiving grocery gift cards and pies, Valentine treats, Easter baskets and egg hunts, ice cream socials to celebrate the last day of school, Field of Honor, Heroes Nite Out, support for Military Spouses and Single Marines such as appreciation brunches/dinners, comedy nights, plus much more.
Q: It sounds like Homefront America provides a variety of programs year-round. What’s your favorite activity?
I don’t have a specific “favorite” but two events are near and dear to me and to our active-duty service members, veterans, and every day Americans: our annual Field of Honor and Heroes Nite Out events.
Q: Tell us about the Field of Honor and Heroes Nite Out.
Field of Honor features a display of 400 plus (3’ x 5’) American flags on 7’ poles, hosted at Mission San Juan Capistrano. This program offers businesses and individuals the opportunity to express their gratitude to those who serve our country and their communities by sponsoring a flag(s) to honor their special Hero or Heroes (past, present, fallen), veterans, first responders, and even K-9 and Equestrian Heroes.
Heroes Nite Out pays tribute to our active military service members and their spouses for their service to our country, and offers civilians the opportunity to meet these Heroes, upfront and personal. The evening includes dinner, prizes, inspiring speaker, plus entertainment by the United States Marine Corps Band and artists from Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
Q: To what do you attribute the success of Homefront America?
My answer is simple: God sends me His best Angels because He knows how much I need them, and these Angels have become my family. They are the backbone of the organization. They are the engine that keep the organization running. They are my inspiration and the best cheerleaders anyone can ever hope for.
Q: I know your husband is a loyal volunteer for Homefront America. How did you meet?
I met my husband, Adam Maywhort, when we were in high school. After graduation, he wasn’t sure what career to pursue, so he joined the Coast Guard. To this day, I thank God for pointing him in the right direction and to his Chief for mentoring him. We married in 1978 after his military service ended, and after I graduated from college.
Following his honorable discharge, he immediately went to work in the construction industry for the next 37 years where he learned every aspect of the business, both in the field and the office. His projects included numerous grocery stores, restaurants, retail stores including South Coast Plaza, and other notable landmarks in Orange County. In 2005, he left construction for his “dream job” with the Irvine Ranch Conservancy managing their 50,000 plus acres of open space as their Director of Planning and Infrastructure. He loves to design and build the trails.
Adam is not only my best half, but he is also an avid mountain biker, and while he rides the trails, I hike them. To make sure I don’t get lost, he tracks me on his GPS because I have a terrible sense of direction. Aside from hiking, I enjoy yoga, walking, and working out with weights. Staying active helps to keep my head clear, and my limbs from rusting. I have this saying, “if you don’t use it, you will lose it.”
In 2014, Farmers & Merchants Bank honored Mamie Yong Maywhort and 12 others at their “California’s Strongest People You Can Bank On” awards event in Long Beach with a $1000 donation towards Homefront America.” The annual award ceremony honors individuals who embody virtues such as integrity, community and goodwill towards others. If you would like more information about Homefront America, or would like to donate towards their support of military families stationed onboard Camp Pendleton and surrounding military bases, visit their website www.homefrontamerica.org or call (949) 248-9468.