At 102, Jean Stafford is in remarkably good shape. Her mind is still sharp and her memories of early Los Altos remain vivid.
Best of all, she remains in good spirits.
“I don’t even think about it,” Stafford said when asked about her longevity. “It wasn’t my idea.”
It’s apparently in her genes – her father lived until 95. She said she’s been a “good Christian” who never smoked.
“I’ve had such good luck,” she added. “I haven’t really had any bad things happen to me.”
The Aberdeen, Wash., native left for California when her husband, Fred, a mechanical engineer, was hired by Westinghouse in Sunnyvale.
The Staffords purchased their house on Loucks Avenue in 1951, back when most of Los Altos was still orchard land. Sixty-six years later, she still lives at home. Her children David and Cheryl visit her regularly. And she still plays bridge every Tuesday.
She lived two doors down from Ray Loucks, son of Los Altos pioneer Menzo Loucks, who operated a ranch in the area and lived in what was once known as the oldest house in town.
She was a community activist in her early days. When Ray Loucks proposed a supermarket at the corner of San Antonio Road and El Camino Real in the 1950s, she fought it. The city eventually voted it down.
“(Ray) Loucks said the only thing he could put on the corner behind all these houses was the largest supermarket in Los Altos,” Stafford recalled. “Some of us were just horrified. So we fought it. I suppose he was mad at me. I really worked at it. I went to city hall. And we won. They could see it was a poor decision.”
In the early 1960s, another proposal, forwarded by Charles and Ray Loucks, called for commercial development at that corner. The Loucks brothers operated under the name Camino Associates. This time, she added her name to a list of neighbors favoring what ended up becoming Village Corner. The Los Altos City Council approved the plans in November 1962.
“Because the land is properly suited for this purpose, these new buildings will convert an unsightly corner into an attractive entrance to the city and the tax revenue from the development will help reduce our tax burden,” the neighbors said in a statement.
There were a host of conditions for approval, however, including a ban on food markets, restaurants and bars, liquor stores, service stations and ice cream parlors. So when plans for an ice cream parlor surfaced in 1966, Stafford was among a host of neighbors in opposition – citing the conditions.
“(Adding the ice cream parlor) would be detrimental to the quiet and peaceable environment of the undersigned’s property,” the neighbors said in a petition.
Founding a church
Stafford also was active in the formation of Foothills Congregational Church in 1961. Foothills came about as a group of 37 parishioners – Stafford included – broke away from Union Church in Los Altos. The church had apparently shifted to a “conservative creedal church with a strong government and a more homogeneous membership,” according to an article by Bob Willwerth in the church’s Foothills Footnotes newsletter.
Stafford’s splinter group founded Foothills to retain the “nondenominational” approach and “theological diversity” that had defined Union for many years since its founding in 1914.
The United Church of Christ welcomed the new group, and Foothills opened its doors Oct. 1, 1961, with 132 members. The Rev. Chuck Bezdek served as minister, and Stafford worked in the church office as Bezdek’s secretary for 16 years.
“We became very good friends,” Stafford said of Bezdek.
Husband Fred, who died in 1992, was an accomplished woodworker, and some of his work remains on display at Foothills Congregational.
Stafford also was a member of the Garden Club of Los Altos and knew Ed Walker – a regular Town Crier contributor who wrote the column “Growin’ Things.”
“He helped me a lot,” she said. “He’s a talker – he joined our church.”
Stafford’s church was central to her life.
“It was really focused on fellowship, people getting to know each other,” recalled her son, David.
“I think Christianity makes a difference,” Stafford said. “I was very close with several of the women.”
Stafford continues to retain a sense of fun – of which her son takes full advantage. He has designed a series of greeting cards using her image in a variety of situations, from holding a surfboard to riding a Segway (“And now, after a brief Segway … ,” the card reads).
“She has an element of theatricality I can exploit,” David laughs. “Everyone (in the family) looks forward to them.”