Meeting Mary Stefko and her daughter-in-law Janet recently was a true delight and their hospitality was much appreciated. Mary is a treasure and she’s just as feisty as ever; such a wonderful disposition and outlook on life.
Uncle Dillon Delivers
Mary was delivered by her Great Uncle Dillon Spotswood September 2, 1923 in the Mobile Infirmary Medical Center in Mobile, Alabama. It’s noted that Uncle Dillon once treated the famous Chiricahua Apache warrior Geronimo who was held prisoner at Mount Vernon Barracks in Mobile. Also noted, Mary’s Great, Great, Great Grandfather General Alexander Spotswood married George Washington’s niece and was presented with General Washington’s last sword in use.
Tragically, Mary’s father passed away when she was but 9 months old and her mother ultimately married Mr. Lawrence F. Hardman who hailed from Erie, Pennsylvania and when Mary was three years old they moved to Erie. She grew up there graduating from Academy High School on June 19, 1941. After high school Mary had every intention of joining the Marine Corps as America’s patriotism soared following Japan’s surprise attack on December 7, 1941 which devastated our Navy at Pearl Harbor. Almost everyone Mary knew was enlisting in the military and she definitely wanted to do her part. However, since Mary was an only child, her protective mother refused to approve her application.
Pullman Train Ride
Mary waited until she turned 21 and then she visited a Marine Corps recruiter. Surprisingly, they didn’t have any openings, but a Navy recruiter spotted her (no surprise) and enticed her to become a Navy Wave. At age 21, Mary joined the Navy on October 19, 1944 and was sent for boot camp to the U.S. Naval Training for Women Reserves School in the Bronx, New York City. Mary experienced her first Pullman train ride travelling to the Bronx and she recalls learning to identify all types of aircraft of the day through silhouette images.
Next, Mary was assigned to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland where she became one of the first three Wave drivers at the station’s driver pool. First, Mary received a host of various driver assignments, but eventually she became Commander Paul Ramsey’s primary driver. Often, she drove him to Washington D.C. and they developed a friendly relationship whereby on numerous occasions she babysat the Commander’s two young sons. With a twinkle in her eye, Mary humorously said, “I’m sure I gave him sore ribs while constantly elbowing away his uninvited advances. He wanted a lot more than my driving and babysitting services, but he didn’t get any.” One of Mary’s fond memories was driving past the infamous Dr. Samuel Mudd’s home in Maryland. Dr. Mudd was infamously hung as a traitor after he treated the notorious John Wilkes Booth who had assassinated President Lincoln.
A Beautiful Man
While at Patuxent, Mary met, as she said, “a beautiful man”, by the name of John “Jack” Stefko, a proud Marine assigned to the Military Police. They first met when Jack pulled her over for speeding and I’m sure he was moved by her striking beauty, as he merely gave her a warning. Their next encounter was at Patuxent’s PX and naturally Jack remembered her. Mary said, “He swept me off my feet and we began dating right away”. Jack and Mary were married June 26, 1945 at Leonardtown, Maryland.
Mary continued driving her Commander at NAS Patuxent until WWII ended and she was honorably discharged in Washington D.C. October 27, 1945. Jack and Mary went to Jack’s parent’s home in Scranton, Pennsylvania for a short while and then to her parent’s home in Erie. Soon, they traveled to San Pedro, California where Mary landed a gas company job, while Jack worked at Allegany Airlines and ultimately going into the roofing business. In 1949 they purchased a home in Reseda where Mary lived for 63 years raising their two adopted children. Sadly, Jack passed away in 1992 and Mary returned to the work force landing a job with ITT. She retired at age 63 in 1986 and eventually moved to Newhall in 2012 to be near her son and his wife.
After retirement, Mary became very active traveling the United States by herself and being an avid reader she was a public library volunteer for years. Harking back to her ole Navy Wave driving duties, Mary also has spent much time assisting disabled seniors by driving them to their various appointments. Mary said she has had a full rewarding life which she credits her exceptional mother who was her guiding force throughout her life. Mary feels blessed to have such a wonderful family and a wonderful community.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.