Growing up in Los Angeles, Fred Stapenhorst thought he just might be able to save the world. 

 

After hearing John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address to the nation in which he declared, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” young Stapenhorst felt a wave of inspiration crash over him and his peers. In fact, when he passed his driver’s test, he contemplated burning his new license to protest the overuse of cars and the burning of fossil fuels.

 

Looking back, Stapenhorst recognizes being somewhat naive. However, his overall liberal perspectives have mostly remained the same since first developing when the U.S. was under the John F. Kennedy administration. All around him, what was once thought to be impossible was now happening. After the Peace Corps was introduced and a man had been on the moon, Stapenhorst felt ready to make global change. He said, “[JFK] made our generation think we can do anything; we can make the world better. And then once he was assassinated in 1963, it was a real blow. I think it drove us more.”

 

Stapenhorst’s high school graduation photograph (1965)

 

His political opinions continued to fall into place throughout the 1960s and 1970s. As big issues surfaced and he watched national movements such as Civil Rights, Title IX, and environmentalism, his views and desires for world change evolved and shaped the person he is today.

 

in 1969, at twenty-one years old, Stapenhorst joined the Peace Corps and relocated from L.A. to La Esperanza, Honduras, a town of five thousand residents. He focused on education which included assisting teachers in completing their schooling. He was struck immediately  by the drastic differences between the two countries. The community struggled with the large number of infections and limited number of doctors as well as food insecurity and unbalanced diets. Reflecting on his time in Honduras, Stapenhorst said, “I think I just felt like you could just see how unequal and unfair [it was]. I think that’s stuck with me ever since.”

 

Stapenhorst at another Peace Corps volunteer’s house near Tegucigalpa

 

A few years later, Stapenhorst returned to California as a young adult. He and a few others opened the first co-op in the northern region. It was unique in the way that all workers had equal rights and duties. Stapenhorst said, “We really believed we organized as a collective, rather than having one manager, because we all thought everybody’s equal.” However, as time went on, and the co-op expanded to more than sixty employees, it was no longer feasible to continue operating in the same way. It was recognized that a manager was necessary to keep the checks and balances.

 

Stapenhorst and his wife, Bobbi later lived in Honolulu, Hawaii. For the first time in his forty years, he lived somewhere where all of the races were equally represented. He remembers there being harmony between everyone and there was only occasional racial tension. This experience brought hope to Stapenhorst. He was a member of a community where race was not a divisive issue, and wondered if it could be done in Hawaii, why couldn’t it be done everywhere?

 

Stapenhorst and his wife, Bobbi on their lanai overlooking Waikiki
(1995)

 

Now in his seventies, Stapenhorst feels his political views shifting. Although still identifying as liberal, he thinks, “You can’t help but become more conservative.,” he said. “That’s just a part of growing old.” At a young age he felt individuals had all the power in the world, but he now believes you look to the government for rules and regulation that will bring change.

 

Twelve presidents have taken turns in office so far in Fred Stapenhorst’s lifetime. A few weeks before the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, he expressed his concern for the aftermath of the most crucial election to date. He made it clear that he has never before seen power used so blatantly to manipulate an election’s outcome. He added, “[The U.S.] may be heading into the more volatile and violent period in our history… I know I sound like some old guy going off the walls here, but it’s pretty disturbing.”

 

Discussion questions:

  • Do you think there were specific factors that contributed to liberal views falling into place for Stapenhorst? Explain. Do you think Stapenhorst experienced bias in his upbringing? Explain. Do you believe it is better to be surrounded in an environment where there is bias or not? Explain.
  • Stapenhorst said he now feels slightly more conservative. What do you believe caused this shift to happen?
  • Our opinions can shape our actions and decisions. Do you think Stapenhorst’s original liberal perspectives lead him in a certain direction? Where specifically? How did they play a role? Do you think our views become more concrete as we choose a path that politically resonates with us? Explain.