Family, friends remember Havasu pioneer Stellene Matzdorff

September 22, 2018

She absolutely, positively didn’t want to live in Lake Havasu City. For one thing, it wasn’t even a city in 1963. It was more of an outpost. At age 27, Stellene Matzdorff was a lively young married woman with a toddler. She and her husband Lyle lived in Phoenix, surrounded by friends and family. She had a busy social life, tended to her young family and enjoyed the many activities and shopping opportunities that Phoenix offered.

Then the future came knocking.

Lyle had a chance to get in the real estate business with his father-in-law, Chet Chenoweth. Chet founded Continental Land & Investment in 1957 and had business interests in Havasu. Lyle believed Havasu had growth potential, so he looked after Chet’s interests and began selling real estate in Havasu. He had to drive home to Phoenix every weekend on rough roads. After a year, the travel and being away from his family during the week was taking its toll. He truly had his work cut out for him to convince Stellene to relocate to Havasu.

“She did everything she could to not come. She thought it was the Wild West here,” Lyle said, adding that eventually, he got the job done. Havasu’s population went up by two when Stellene and their son Lance moved to town.

And that’s when Stellene’s utter devotion to Havasu began. She fell in love with the then-tiny desert community. Lyle said her love affair with Havasu continued for 54 years — right up until the day she died unexpectedly on Sept. 16.

Stellene was 82.

“We devoted our entire lives to Havasu,” Lyle said. “We do love it. In those early years, people were very social. But there wasn’t much to do, so they had to make their own fun. Everyone was participating to get things done, to build the town. Stellene loved that part.”

As her family and friends mourn her passing, they welcomed the chance to share details of Stellene’s life with Today’s News-Herald. The one thing they didn’t need to mention was Stellene’s lasting civic contributions to Havasu over the decades. They are immeasurable. She helped shape many of the unique features of the town and kept working at it just a few short weeks before she died.

The Matzdorff family grew right along with Havasu. Sons Lonny and Lenny were born and the family of five was complete. But Stellene’s job of helping to build a city was just beginning. Son Lance Matzdorff wrote of his mother’s efforts via email on Wednesday, three days after her death.

“What I remember most about my mom is she was always interested in what us boys did; trying to stay ‘in the loop’ of what kids were doing… She was young at heart clear until the end. She…seemed to have endless energy, always going to some organization meeting or outing. I remember while growing up that in the evening there was always someone calling for her. Even though raising three kids on top of the commitments she had, she also took us to all of the after-school events we were in,” Lance wrote.

Judy Whelan moved to Havasu in 1973 and spoke of her decades-long friendship with Stellene.

“She was totally committed to Havasu,” Whelan began. “She was smart, organized and always an optimist, even as her health declined,” she said. “Stellene had a great memory, too. She knew all about Arizona. If I was going somewhere in the state, she could tell me what route to take, what restaurant to go to and she’d tell me the waitress’s name.”

Stellene and Whelan were highly involved in civic activities.

“Over the years, we took on a lot of projects. Both of us were impulsive. We’d jump into things before we thought about it. Maybe that’s why we always got along. And whatever we did, Stellene was always very well turned out. She never went anywhere looking sloppy.

“I’m going to miss the fact that she always challenged me to keep up with her. In our conversations, she would jump from topic to topic, and I would say, “Slow down! I want to ask you something about that. But she wouldn’t let me. She’d say, ‘No! I’m not done with my list yet.’ And she would keep on going,” Whelan said.

Stellene’s husband Lyle explained that he and Stellene always had a good-natured joke around their house about Whelan. He said, “You know, there are three types of communication: The telephone, the television and tell Judy Whelan.”

She didn’t mind being the butt of the Matzdorffs’ inside joke, Whelan said.

“Stellene would tell me a story and then I’d be blabbing that story all over town,” Whelan laughed. “It would get back to her. She would say to me, ‘Stop telling that story!’ Stellene had such a good sense of humor. We worked hard on things, but we sure had a lot of fun.”

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