Senior in Action – Marilyn Campman

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 – Marilyn Campman

by Marilee Marrero Stefenhagen

Born in 1938, Marilyn will celebrate her 83rd birthday in July.  Her rescue dog Hazel ensures Marilyn continues to be a “Senior in Action” by demanding walks 2-3 times daily.  Marilyn’s doctor commends her daily pool exercise regimen, from May to October when the pool at her condo residence is heated.  Marilyn must take along her portable oxygen tank while walking with Hazel due to COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).  “I never smoked, so didn’t think I would be dealing with this disease,” said Marilyn.  “But I had asthma as a child, so I guess my lungs were damaged.  I believe in staying active as long as you can, in whatever capacity you find yourself.”

I was born in Alhambra, and we moved to the Westchester area of Los Angeles near LAX airport when I was 12.  My family regularly participated in worship and studies at Covenant Presbyterian Church; activities which were a positive force in my youth. As an adult, I sang in the Laguna Niguel Presbyterian Church for years and was the music librarian before the pandemic forced church closures.  Now the medication I take for COPD has impacted my vocal chords, so even though church has reopened, choral singing is out of the question.  From my parents, I learned how important faith is – in any situation, but especially in a marriage or after the death of a spouse.”

When asked how she met her husband, Marilyn chuckled, “Literally… at the door.  Chuck was a junior Fuller Brush salesman, selling door-to-door.  My dad complained that we bought way too many brushes, in every shape and form.  Chuck was a couple of years ahead of me at UCLA.  College dorms were only available via a lottery system so he carpooled with me and several neighborhood girls.  I joined the Phi Mu Sorority to experience campus social life.  As Sorority members, we were expected to volunteer.  My assignment was part-time secretary to Rafer Johnson, student body Vice-President, and President of his senior class. Rafer won the Olympic decathlon in 1960 and became an actor and sportscaster.”

“My first memorable date with Chuck was attending a weekend formal at St. Catherine’s Hotel on Catalina Island.  The girls rented rooms on one floor, and the guys on another.   During the day we swam and visited the bird farm; at night we had a formal dinner dance with a live band.  We wore fancy ball gowns…the whole works. Chuck and I tied the knot in 1960.  He taught high school science classes.  I taught 2nd Grade in the early years of our marriage, but stopped to raise our three sons, Martin, Steven and Ken.  I taught preschool at church for 7 years, then trained to become the Director, a position I held until retirement after 37 years.  Preschool kids are like sponges, they love to learn and are so enthusiastic.  I shared many practical parenting techniques with the moms and dads.”

On summer vacations, the Campman family often camped in a tent-trailer.  Later, Chuck used his Sea Scout skills for family adventures on a small sailboat.  They eventually upgraded to a larger sailboat, and after the kids were grown, Chuck and Marilyn bought a trawler powerboat. Marilyn recalled, “When we owned the sailboat, I was a daredevil – the faster we rode those waves, the better!  On a trip to New Zealand, we attended a dinner cruise held on one of the America’s Cup boats.  The captain asked, would anyone like to sail the boat?  Chuck and I pointed at each other.  The captain said the boat had never been sailed by a woman, so he invited me to take the helm.  Once he saw I knew what to do, he let loose the sails and we sped off –a powerful ego trip!”

After retirement, Chuck became a volunteer docent aboard The Pilgrim, a historic ship docked in Dana Point, and Marilyn focused on needlework, Bible studies, and church leadership..  She joined PEO (Philanthropic Educational Organization) Chapter QT, to provide educational scholarships to women. Both enjoyed dining out.  Chuck teased, “Marilyn’s favorite thing to make for dinner is RESERVATIONS!” In 2016 Chuck was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  He underwent surgery and chemotherapy, but died in 2017.

Marilyn appreciated hearing her sons’ perspectives of their father, expressed during his memorial service.  “They all recognized the role of faith in our lives.”  The eldest son Martin (Marty)  provides computer tech expertise to a tribal reservation at Thermal, CA; Steven (Steve) is Chief Medical Examiner in San Diego, and Kenneth (Ken) is CEO of an Arizona company that grows crystals for computer microchips.  Marilyn has 8 talented grandchildren.

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