Senior in Action – Marilee Marrero 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.

Re: photo taken in front of the waterfall:

The waterfall picture was taken at Mendenhall Lake in Alaska when we took our boat up


Senior in Action – Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen



My life so far has definitely been influenced by the Rule of Three.  My mother Harriet and father Wayne had three daughters: me, the oldest born in 1952; Lynn, the middle child and Kathleen, the baby. My parents were teachers, at school and at home.  My mom taught me and my sisters how to cook, clean, throw parties, sing, dance and rely on faith in God. Dad shared his love of the outdoors, and taught skills such as gymnastics, baiting fish hooks, planting trees, and watching the night sky. When they divorced, we spent the school year with my mom in New York and summer months in California with my dad and stepmom Annette.  I believe my travel bug and love of the ocean came from our annual trips to Florida to visit Mom’s sister Anne in the Tampa Bay area.  My map-reading skills were essential as navigator while Mom drove from NY to FL.  Another life-changing experience was my summer spent living with a family in Switzerland through AFS (American Field Service).  Besides learning rudimentary German, I hiked with the Dunki family in the Swiss alps, traveled to many Swiss cities, and learned that the U.S. is not the center of the universe. I also ate too much bread and cheese, gaining 30 pounds in six weeks!


I’ve lived in three states; born & raised in western New York, moved with my first husband to Florida, then journeyed to California via U-Haul where I have resided since 1978.  And speaking of husbands, I’ve been married three times.

You could even count my three careers, as a teacher, librarian, and writer.  Following graduation from State University of New York at Geneseo with a Master’s in Library Science, my husband Bill and I moved from Florida to California where he had been hired at Cal State Dominguez Hills.  I accepted a teaching position at Redeemer Lutheran School in South Gate, CA.  Teaching was not my cup of tea, but I attended a workshop on progressive discipline which enhanced my effectiveness as a librarian when I was hired at LA County Library in 1978. I spent the next 32 years learning the many ways libraries influence people’s lives.  I managed community libraries and worked with Friends of the Library volunteers.  As Literacy Coordinator, I learned the Laubach method of tutoring adults how to read and supervised the County Library’s literacy program. In 2011, I retired from the position of Regional Library Administrator where I was responsible for hiring librarians and supervised 18 library managers.

Librarianship brought me three romances leading to three marriages.  I met my first husband Bill in Library School in SUNY Geneseo where we were both working on our Master’s Degrees in Library Science.  He supported my views of women’s liberation in the days of MS. Magazine.  Sadly, we were not compatible and soon parted company. While working at Brakensiek Library in Bellflower, I met a good-looking USC student who won my heart with his dancing feet.  Those were the days of disco, and we took disco dance lessons together and enjoyed practicing our skills at local clubs. I loved being a dancing queen!  We married and with my biological clock ticking, at age 34 I birthed a son named Curtis.  Looking back over the decades, I believe that the birth of my son is my proudest moment.

I met my third husband Gordon while fundraising for Norwalk Library during a funding crisis for public libraries.  Third time’s the charm! He was active in the City of Norwalk, and taught me how to build community and corporate support for nonprofits.  I have used the tools and techniques he shared many times over the years, in support of libraries, and two women’s organizations I cherish: Soroptimist International of Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs, and Norwalk Woman’s Club. We make a great team, and have been married 23 years and counting.  He is originally from the Chicago area, and we have enjoyed many trips to the Windy City to visit family and his alma mater DePaul University.




“The third phase of life is not about retirement at all. It’s about challenging traditional boundaries, conquering old fears, staying positive, and finding a meaningful purpose to carry you through the rest of your life.” – The Third Journey by Storie and Trimingham

I retired early at age 59 to pursue writing.  UCLA Extension classes were very helpful, but children’s book writing was set aside as I focused more time and energy on caring for my mother Harriet, and taking her to doctor appointments.  She was able to live independently until 2019, and continued her hobby of puppet storytelling with a little help from her daughter.  Harriet left this world in December 2020, and I thank my sisters for their constant love and support during Mom’s final years.  The faith that Mom instilled in us is what keeps me active at Bay Shore Church.  I’ve served on various church commissions, and worship regularly in Long Beach.  I am proud that Bay Shore Church adapted quickly during the pandemic to produce excellent online worship alternatives on YouTube.

Faith, family and friends is my “Rule of Three” mantra in this third phase of life.  My family now includes grandson William, who is a joy and loves books as much as his grandma.  Yippee!  And my best friends are Soroptimists, as we do projects together towards a common mission to help half a million women & girls reach their educational dreams by 2031.  The beauty of being in the third phase of life is freedom to spend more quality time with friends and family.  This year, my sisters and I met in New Mexico for a family reunion with our 92-year-old father and Annette; making memories while we are still able to travel and sing sweet or silly songs together.  As I tell people, my name is Marilee, pronounced like the song: “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.