“Magic is the hearth
where the welcome-fire burns —
where joy lifts a beacon
in the gathering night,” wrote Stephanie “Stefi” Marianne Chase, a published and prolific poet who fell deeply in love with Idyllwild, writing fondly about the mountains throughout the half-century she lived here.
Stefi died about 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, 2005, at the Meadowbrook Convalescent Hospital in Hemet, where she suffered from Parkinson’s disease. She was 91.
Born Stefania Marianne Czajkowska on Jan. 9, 1914 in Minneapolis, she was the only child of Polish immigrants Anthony and Tekla Czajkowska.
“She had a lot of religious training,” said friend Jane Stonehill. Stefi attended a Polish Catholic school but was very interested in Eastern religions. “She spoke Polish until the day she died,” said Stonehill. Little else is known about her background.
Stonehill said Stefi was a person of strong opinion who was a Democrat and very liberal in her political views.
Stefi moved to Idyllwild from the desert in about 1950 and married well-known artist Val Samuelson. They later divorced but remained friends all their lives.
As she said in an April 2, 1965 Town Crier story about her first visit here, “I took a long, deep breath, made an eternal pact with the mountain and stayed.
“The idea was to write, write, write! But I found myself so involved with the enchantment of living in this environment, trying to encompass the wonders of each day, that I almost begrudged the distraction of taking up a pencil.”
Stefi told friends that she had hiked every trail in the mountains several times. In later years when she could no longer hike, her favorite day was one spent with friends at Uptown Coffee House, later Café Aroma.
“Whenever any music was playing there, John and I would bring her to Café Aroma,” said friend Alla Marshall. “I used to buy her tapes of music and one of her favorites was Simon and Garfunkel.”
Stefi called everyone “dear heart” and truly loved everyone, said Marshall.
“She sent me $100 when I was poor, just out of the blue,” said friend Olivia Redwine. “One day my older dog had a major operation. I sat with her after the operation with the vet. Stefi came all night long outside the window and knocked on it to see if my dog was OK.”
Stefi was a former member of the League of Minnesota Poets and of the California Federation of Chaparral Poets. Her poems and articles were published in many magazines, including in the Ford Times, a Ford Motor Company publication.
For three years in the early 1950s, she had the first book store in Idyllwild, The Bookend. It was located in the Village Lane.
Stefi once served as secretary of the Idyllwild Chamber of Commerce and as a staff member of ISOMATA, now Idyllwild Arts. And at one time, she wrote a column for the Town Crier.
One of her first series of poetry books was printed in the mid-1960s under the publisher Strawberry Valley Press, a Town Crier publishing company. Some of the poems, thoughts and prose from that limited-edition volume also were published in Arizona Highways.
As much as she loved the mountains, in mid-1966, she decided to move back to Minneapolis to be with her parents who were ill.
“I’m looking forward to an urban atmosphere and to catching up on some interests I’ve not had a chance to enjoy,” she told the Town Crier. “I can do this because I’ve been fortified by so much here. Now I can face the city.
“I expect to splurge on art galleries and concerts where all I have to do is step on a bus or call a cab.”
After her parents died a few years later, Stefi returned to Idyllwild.
A modern, refined quality did not keep her from resisting driving a car. Instead, she was often seen walking one of her beloved dog companions. “She never owned or drove a car in her life,” said Stonehill. “I always laughed when she talked about herself as being independent. But in this modern age, if you don’t drive a car, you’re not independent. It was an illusion we let her have.”
She and Stonehill were friends for 13 years. In 1996 when Stonehill had a book store in Idyllwild, her company, Stonehill Books, published one of Stefi’s volumes, “Out of Silence, From the Heart of the San Jacinto Mountains.”
“She was always a lady, although she loved the outdoors,” Stonehill said.
Marshall and friend Hill Champion said Stefi fed the squirrels and birds every day and often fed coyotes and raccoons.
“I would come home from the sea and put a balloon on her fence,” Champion said, about when he worked as a sailor. “That was my way of saying, ‘Stefi, I’m home if you need anything.’”
Marshall said Stefi was always well-groomed and would only wear purple, light blue, lavender and pink colors.
She suffered from osteoporosis causing her to hunch over in her later years.
“She was wonderful and very courageous,” said Marshall’s husband, John, who had known her for about 17 years. “She always had trouble in her spine and she used to walk up the Hill in front of our house every morning. I’d see her with this very grim, determined look. She was so courageous.”
Stonehill said Stefi was grateful for the care she received from the staff at Meadowbrook and Hemet Hospice.
“Before she moved down to Hemet, she used to come into Uptown Coffee House [now Café Aroma] for soups and I used to make her special soups,” said Bruce Watts, who was managing and cooking at the restaurant.
“I always thought she was like an angel … Even though she was so stooped over in pain, she always had a beautiful smile. She’ll be missed.”
Stefi had no living relatives but is survived by many loving friends.
Her ashes will be inurned at the Memorial Garden at St. Hugh of Lincoln Episcopal Church.