Senior in Action – Penny Markey

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 – Penny Markey

Q: When and where were you born?

Penny: “I always get a charge out of my birthdate, 5/l/51.  It’s fun to see people’s reaction to that string of numbers! And coincidently, my younger sister was born on the first of May three years later.  My sister’s married name is Younger, so she teases, “I will always be your ’Younger’ sister.”

“Our family moved several times during my youth.  I was born in Pittsburgh but grew up in New Castle, Pennsylvania.  My dad managed retail stores, and ultimately became Human Resources Director for a jewelry store chain. When my sister and I were in elementary school, my mother worked as a school secretary, and later, as an intake specialist for Pennsylvania Social Services.  My sister and I were latchkey kids from the time I was about ten, so I learned how to set the table, make salad, and generally get ready for dinner.”

Q: How did you decide on a library career?

Penny: “I always had a strong work ethic, even in my many part-time jobs including switchboard operator and cafeteria server.  I attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and often completed my homework at the study tables of the downtown Cleveland Public Library. I would daydream about what kind of work I wanted to do after college.  I realized that I always loved libraries and children.  A friend told me that CWRU offered a Master’s Degree in Library Science.  I said, ‘Who Knew!’  I made an appointment at the Dean’s office to learn more.  When I arrived, the Dean said, ‘Oh, are you here for our new program where you can earn your bachelor’s and Master’s degree at the same time?’ ‘Of course,’ I answered. Because of that lucky break, I was able to acquire my Master’s degree and Bachelor’s degree at the same time.”

“My next bit of luck turned out to be when my husband Paul accepted a fellowship in Ocean Engineering at USC.  As soon as we landed in LA, in 1974, I started looking for a library job.  I was invited to interview at Iacoboni Library.  I looked up and down the LA map for the town of Iacoboni, not knowing it was a memorial library in Lakewood named after Angelo M. Iacoboni!  I was unaware that Iacoboni Library was the busiest library in the L.A. County Library System. When they offered me a job as Children’s Librarian, I eagerly accepted.  The library manager, Helen Amestoy, was an amazing role model.  Her credo was PUBLIC SERVICE, and Mrs. Amestoy gave me free rein to be creative as long as the children and their families were well-served.  I supervised Library Assistant Yvonne Brown, who graciously ignored the fact that I was young enough to be her daughter.”

“Later, I promoted to Regional Children’s Librarian and trained other librarians working with children. In 1980 I was promoted to Children’s Coordinator of L.A. County Library System for the 88 libraries in LA County library system. I retired from that position in 2010.  In that role, I promoted reading and the joy of learning. I sought inclusiveness.  While attending library conventions, I talked to children’s book publishers about the importance of having multicultural and bilingual books. Eventually, my colleagues and I were able to create a change in the marketplace and today there are many more books that represent the diverse people in our neighborhoods.  I served twice on the prestigious American Library Association Newbery Medal book award selection committee and once on the Caldecott Medal committee. I still read children’s literature to keep abreast of new authors.”

Q: Where did you meet your husband?

Penny: “Paul and I were neighbors in Cleveland.  I moved in with girlfriends in a decrepit house in a hippie neighborhood near the University. A group of engineering and graduate students lived in the house next door.  We all socialized and in my case romance started.  After Paul and I married and moved to LA, we expanded our family to include a son, Zachary.  Flash forward a few decades and Zachary is now grown and married with a son of his own, named Declan. Paul’s family is Irish, so they were especially thrilled by his Irish name.  Zach is an engineer working on environmental satellites. His wife, Erin is in-charge of creek planning for the city of Santa Barbara. We visit them and our grandson as often as is safely possible during COVID-19. “

“Paul and I often cook together, trying new recipes and flavor combinations.  Paul’s niece started a cooking club.  We cook international food alphabetically from countries from A-Z. About 9 members of the Markey family cook together via Zoom every month.  Last month we fixed Korean Bibimbap, and next, we’ll fix Lebanese hummus and Fattoush salad.”

“We also enjoy traveling. Our last trip before the pandemic was to Milan, Venice and Florence.”

Q: What activities are you involved with now that you’re retired?

Penny: “The busier I am, the better I feel.  To this day, I can’t sit around and do nothing. After retirement, Paul and I delivered Meals on Wheels, but could not continue during the pandemic.  I have continued being a child advocate.  I served on Board of Directors for RIF (Reading is Fundamental of Southern California), and First Book of the South Bay, but found I’d rather be a worker bee than setting policy on a Board.  One of my projects was to conduct children’s reading clubs at my local Manhattan Beach Library.”

“During the Vietnam War era, I became a LIFELONG political activist.   I stood on street corners to have people sign petitions. One of my letters to the editor caught the attention of my hometown League of Women Voters, and they invited me to join.  I’ve been involved with the League ever since.  I attended Anti-Vietnam War protests and rallies. In 1971, I attended the March on Washington.  I continue to do political work.”

“The major thing I’m doing now is coordinating the postcarding initiative for Manhattan Beach ‘Huddle,’ a political action committee.   We send handwritten postcards to encourage voter registration and to get-out-the-vote.   Last year our group sent 21,000 postcards across the U.S. to lobby voters. “

“I believe that after a person dies, it is the way that person is remembered that is their legacy. I want to be remembered as a person who made a difference. Tell your NBY readers to forget their failures, remember only the good stuff and keep moving forward.”

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Paul & Penny Markey  Doge’s Palace, Palazzo Ducale, Venice, Italy.

Buckley and Penny

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