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Doug Clark: Steady work best policy nearing 90

Thu., June 27, 2013

Joyce Stefanoff is retiring at the end of summer, although she’ll concede to anyone who asks that she’s not sure if she’s quite ready to hang it up.

The problem is that Stefanoff loves her job and all it entails.

She loves driving her candy-apple red Lexus downtown each day from her home on the South Hill.

She loves riding one of the Lincoln Building elevators up to her office on the fourth floor. She even loves getting the coffee brewing for Berge Borrevik, her employer.

And if that doesn’t sound all that newsworthy, consider this.

Stefanoff turns 90 on Aug. 10.

This trim woman has worked for New York Life Insurance Co. agents in Spokane since 1955, back when Eisenhower was president and some guy named Willard Taft was mayor.

“I know of no one who has been associated with New York Life as long as she has,” said Borrevik with pride.

Stefanoff even remembers my dad, Kenneth R. Clark, who sold insurance for New York Life from the 1950s until he passed away in 1981.

“You bet I remember him,” said Stefanoff shortly after I dropped in on her on Wednesday morning. “Nice man.”

Stefanoff’s retirement was triggered by Borrevik’s decision to start working from home.

You can’t fault him. Borrevik is 78, after all.

“He’s just a kid,” quipped Stefanoff.

I don’t normally nickname the people I write about, but “Iron Lady” sure seems to fit here.

In an era of slackers and whiners, Joyce Stefanoff is a blazing beacon to what the American work ethic once stood for.

To work 30 hours a week in a downtown office when you’re pushing 90?

That’s nothing less than incredible.

Yet everything about Stefanoff defies age. I almost want to demand to check her driver’s license just make sure I’m not being bamboozled.

Articulate. Gregarious. Energetic …

“I’ve been lucky,” she said of her overall good health. “I’ve just never had any stress.”

“She’s my inspiration,” said Julie Meyers Lehman, an executive assistant for an agent down a long hall from Borrevik.

“When I get older I want to be like her… She thinks work has kept her young – and it has.”

Stefanoff began life far away from an office. She was brought up on a farm near Great Falls, “an only kid to older parents.”

The agrarian lifestyle, however, was definitely not for her.

“Nope,” she answered tersely. “Hated it.”

It was only a matter of time before Stefanoff found her way off the farm. (“I always knew I would. It was inside of me.”)

After two years attending a teaching college, Stefanoff taught grade school for seven years.

She married Steve and moved to Spokane in 1949.

“I liked it from the minute I set foot in the place,” she said of our Lilac Wonderland.

Washington, unlike Montana, required a four-year degree to teach, she said. So after a time, she landed a job working for New York Life agent Ken Van Leuven.

The New York Life offices were in the Old National Bank building back then. The company migrated to the spiffy new Lincoln Building in 1965.

This, remember, was the “Leave It to Beaver” time when women were supposed to wear pearls and stay at home.

Although Stefanoff raised two sons, David and Jim, working was always a big part of her life. “I had to have my own money,” she said. “That’s always been important to me.”

Husband Steve died from cancer 23 years ago.

Stefanoff, however, kept her free time filled playing bridge, working out with a personal trainer, attending plays and symphony concerts and taking globe-hopping vacations to destinations like India, China and Australia.

So what’s the key to Stefanoff’s longevity?

Well, genetics didn’t hurt. Dad died at 89, she said, and Mom made it to 94.

Keeping active also seems to have played a role.

“Use it or lose it,” said Stefanoff.

Which is why the thought of retirement has her a little nervous.

I asked Stefanoff how she plans to fill all those hours that she normally spends checking files and “helping a guy sell insurance.”

Stefanoff had no answer.

I’m positive this savvy woman will figure it out.

And if not, might I recommend the classifieds in this fine newspaper I work for. Just look under the 300 “employment” section.

Someone with all that vim and vigor will have no trouble landing another job.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by email at

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