By Jim Tortolano
In the famously mobile Golden State, an old-timer today might be someone whose family came here before iPads and backup cameras. But Stephanie Klopfenstein’s family came to Garden Grove around the time that Teddy Roosevelt was storming the San Juan Heights and the Model A was still a twinkle in Henry Ford’s eye.
Klopfenstein, the District 5 councilmember and mayor pro tem, is living evidence that there are families that put down roots and prosper while helping their communities prosper as well.
“My family moved here from Missouri in the late 1800s,” said Klopfenstein, 39. The first of five generations to land in Garden Grove is counted from 1898 when Mildred McDonald was born in a small crossroads village west of the Santa Ana River.
“She was a housewife, and she helped out in the packinghouses. Our family did have orange orchards and quite a large farm and ranch that extended from Verano Street – now Euclid Street south of Garden Grove Boulevard – all the way to Taft Street.”
The next generation was Stephanie’s grandmother Bertha McDonald, who will turn 96 next January. Her married name was Wheeler and her husband – Bernard, who was called Lee – worked for the local water department before there was a city of Garden Grove.
“Grandmother bought the first home in Garden Grove and we still own it today,” said Klopfenstein. A family “colony” developed in the area of Euclid Street and Lampson Avenue. “My brother lives next door to me and my parents live one street over and my in-laws are on that same street. We’re all together.”
Her mother, Marla (Wheeler) Beihl, was born in 1954 and Stephanie came into the world in 1980. Her daughter, Emerson, just turned 8 years old.
The family’s tenure spans the growth of Garden Grove from a small village into a rural town and then into a growing suburban city which the 2020 census may show is home to close to 200,000 people.
“The biggest change was how agrarian we were,” she said. “We had orchards and farms and animals. It’s amazing how spread-out everything was and what a small town it was. I wish I could go back for just one day and see how it was.”
Her family history weaves not just through the community in general but also through Garden Grove High School, which will turn 100 years old in 1921. Her clan’s association with the Argonauts – originally the Chili Peppers – begins with aunt Mina Launders who in 1924 was among the school’s first students. Stephanie is a 1998 graduate.
Despite the Big Strawberry’s growth from a very small cluster of buildings into the fifth-largest city in Orange County, she endorses the idea that despite its horizon-to-horizon boundaries, Garden Grove can still feel like a small town.
“Oh, there’s a Mayberry vibe there for sure,” she said. “If you’re involved, I know it feels like a very small city. I can’t run into Ralphs grocery store without running into someone I know, and I like it that way.”
The griping she sees about her hometown on social media “gets my back up,” she said. “It’s what you make of it. If you volunteer and are involved in your school and community and you’re constantly striving to make this a better place, it will be a better place.”
Her family has plenty of experience doing that.
Categories: Garden Grove