Leonard J. Doerfler
September 7, 1922
August 21, 2021
Leonard “Lenny” Doerfler passed away on August 21, just three weeks shy of his 99th birthday. He was born in Chicago, Illinois, and left when drafted into the US Army during WWII. After the war, he married Edie Schwarzkopf , a sweetheart from his Chicago days. The couple settled in Southern California where Len attended USC for his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees. A few years later, Len and Edie bought a home in Long Beach where many of the “old Chicago gang” were raising their families. Those friendships remained life long, with many of the adult children of the clan thinking of Len as their second father. In 1999, after more than 50 years of marriage, Edie passed away.
Len was fortunate to find love a second time and re-married in his eighth decade of life. He leaves behind his wife, Adele Plotkin, along with his daughters Sandi Kahn and Carol Willey (Robert Willey), grandchildren Adam Caplan, Nicole and Ryan Willey, Nathan, Adam and Ben Kahn, and 3 great grandchildren, (with one more on the way!)
During World War II, Len was stationed on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia where he was fortunate to not be involved in direct combat. One of his favorite war stories was exiting his tent in his pajamas (his stripes sewn on the sleeve!) and seeing Eleanor Roosevelt arriving to visit the troops. Len’s unit was later transferred to the Philippines, and subsequently to Japan where they assisted in post war operations. Even in wartime he was a jokester, pulling pranks on the Colonel and authoring a witty base newsletter. His ability to make the most of what life presented him was a trait never left him.
After 33 years with the Montebello Unified School District, Len retired from his career in Education. He taught English and Social Studies at Bell Gardens Junior High School, and then went on to become a Counselor and then Administrator. At retirement, he was serving as the Director of Elementary Education. On campus, Len’s humor and good will created an atmosphere of teamwork and collegiality. He encouraged staff to try innovative approaches and not be afraid to fail. He inspired students and staff alike, always finding ways to build on each individual’s strengths.
One of Len’s passions was music. While his childhood violin lessons did not lead to a chair in the Philharmonic, he retained a lifelong love of Opera and Classical Music. In later years, Len could often be found whistling along with a complex adagio or wiping away tears sparked by a beautiful aria. He was an avid “armchair conductor” and when turning 95, he revealed he had always dreamed of conducting an orchestra. In answer, Len’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren assembled in the park with kazoos, rattles, and whistles in hand. It was a ragtag rehearsal for what was to be his real debut the next day. Len was invited to conduct a rehearsal of Music Mends, a band and choir for those with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s. It was the beginning of a treasured relationship in which Len thrived as honorary conductor of The Fifth Dementia, their flagship band. With his ever-present twinkle in his eye, he gave his heart and soul. The opportunity to conduct the group for a gala fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel was a dream come true.
Family and friends know Len as a fun-loving prankster with a zest for life and laughter. His kindness and light-hearted spirit were available to all, whether lifelong friends (like the “poker boys” who gathered every month for over 5 decades), or new acquaintances from Gerofit at the VA, or other residents and staff at the Veteran’s Home of California.
Leonard Doerfler you made the world a better place and you will be sorely missed.
Due to Covid Concerns, there will be a service for immediate family only at the Los Angeles National Cemetery. A celebration of life may be planned for the future.