Diana Steeples, one of the creators of today's panoply of senior services in the Palo Alto area, died Oct. 3 at Channing House following a period of failing health.
For many years she was the "voice" of Avenidas and its predecessor name, the Senior Coordinating Council of the Palo Alto Area, Inc. She worked on raising awareness of programs and events as well as raising funds for the nonprofit organization.
In 2001 she was recognized for her "lifetime of advocacy" when she received a "Lifetimes of Achievement" award from Avenidas.
She retired in 1997 after nearly three decades of working on behalf of seniors in Palo Alto and neighboring communities. Prior to her work with seniors, Steeples had been on the staff at Children's Hospital as well as executive director of Abilities United, which was then called Community Association for the Retarded.
In 1971 Steeples established the first senior services program in the region, working part-time out of a tiny office in the then-new Downtown Library on Forest Avenue behind the Palo Alto City Hall.
"My title, 'Senior Adult Community Resources Coordinator,' was longer than the room was wide," Steeples said of her quarters that became the epicenter for programs and services for older adults -- in an interview with the Weekly in 2001.
In the following years she became a persistent catalyst for creation or expansion of services.
"It's fair to say that she was one of the first folks in the community to advocate for senior services," Lisa Hendrickson, current director of Avenidas, said of Steeples' contributions. "She was tireless and a wonderful advocate." About half of the 6,000 persons served by the range of programs in the past year are Palo Alto residents and many others have parents who are Palo Alto residents, she said.
"Truly, if anyone deserves credit for the breadth, depth and vitality of Avenidas' services, Diana does," Kathleen Gwynn, former president and CEO of Avenidas, said in 2001 of Steeples' contributions.
Steeples was a native of St. Louis, Mo., but moved around the country with her parents, Derwood and Elizabeth Baker, and younger sister, Susan (Hartzell), also a longtime Palo Alto area resident. Steeples credited her parents with instilling a pattern of community involvement and appreciation for beauty and people.
Steeples received a B.A. in sociology from Pomona College, then did graduate studies at the New York School of Social Work at Columbia University. She worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, where she discovered an aptitude for helping families find needed resources.
She relocated to Glendora, Calif., in 1953 to work in the medical social services at the Los Angeles County General Hospital. She met her future husband, a doctor, and her professional career was put on hold while she practiced homemaking and child-raising skills.
She left Glendora and the marriage, heading to visit a friend in Ely, Nevada, but had a serious accident en route. She moved to Palo Alto so her daughter, Ann, could get high-quality plastic surgery. She also had a son, Alan. Her children survive her as do her sister and three grandchildren, Audrey and Andrew Steeples and Morgan Randolph.
She became a social worker for the Santa Clara County Department of Social Services, doing welfare work in San Jose. She then was named the first executive director of the Community Association for Rehabilitation in Palo Alto, which included "program development," a "fancy word for fundraising."
She later coordinated outpatient services at Children's Hospital at Stanford (now the Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital), and began lobbying for city support of an information-referral service for seniors, under the auspices of a group called the Senior Coordinating Council. The city responded with the tiny office in the downtown library and hired Steeples to staff it.
As the organization grew, moved into its quarters at 450 Bryant St. and branched into a wide range of services, Steeples served under various titles, while also being involved in community programs or groups such as the Christmas Bureau, the first Farmer's Market in downtown Palo Alto and the League of Women Voters.
"I was very fortunate in the development of my career with Avenidas, partly because the Senior Coordinating Council was an existing and determined community body. But even nationally there began to be an increasing awareness of the needs of older adults, which had not been there before. So I rode, in some sense, the crest of this national trend," she said in the 2001 interview.
Memorial services are pending.