March is Women’s History Month, and each week this month the Beverly Press and Park Labrea News is paying tribute to women who help our community thrive.
Joyce Kleifield is a well-known name among local activists. Currently, Kleifield serves as the president of the Wilshire Rotary Club, although this is far from her first important volunteer role. Kleifield has spent most of her adult life working, often without pay, to make life better for Angelenos.
“There are times my husband’s like, ‘Most people get paid a lot of money for doing what you’re doing.’ And all I can ever say to him is, ‘Yes, and thank you so much for letting me do this.’ Because it’s just important to me,” Kleifield said. “I just feel like I need to do this. I feel like I’ve been really lucky in life, and there are a lot of people who have not been. I just feel like I need to do something about that. I need to help however I can.”
Parents and students in the area are likely familiar with Kleifield’s work from her years working at Fairfax High School as the director of development, a position she also held with the Alice G. Harrison Memorial Trust, an organization that supports students and teachers at Los Angeles High School. In the past, she’s also been the administrative manager of the Mid City West Community Council and a community representative for Los Angeles Unified School District. While most of her professional life, both as an employee and a volunteer, has been spent supporting the education sector, this was not the career path that Kleifield, a Palm Springs-native, set on when she enrolled at the University of San Diego.
“I majored in business because when I was in high school my first job as a 16 year old was working at an insurance agency office. It was just fortuitous. I needed a job, and they were looking for a file clerk. I ended up spending three years at that insurance agency and learning a lot about the insurance business and business in general, because when you’re an insurance underwriter, you learn about all different kinds of businesses because you’re underwriting their risks. So that got me interested in business,” she said.
Her father worked in public relations, owned a newspaper and managed movie theaters. She described Palm Springs in the 1960s as a “small town,” where there wasn’t much to do besides going to the movies and bowling.
“I spent a lot of time watching every movie that came out. I’ve always loved movies [and] theater. That’s been my hobby,” Kleifield said.
She added that while theater and acting were her passions growing up, she never had any desire to pursue a career in entertainment.
“I was a practical person. I knew I needed something that I could rely on. So, business became my focus. And that’s what I got a degree in,” Kleifield said, also explaining that her scholarship to college required her to continue working with the insurance company and pursue a business degree. Every summer, her scholarship stipulated that she had to work in a different location for the company. Her first summer was in Los Angeles, and she moved back to L.A. following graduation.
“I moved to L.A. to be with my boyfriend, but I was like, ‘Five years in and [I’m] out of here,” she said. “I really wanted to transfer overseas. I wanted to go someplace overseas. And that led me to getting into underwriting in the international insurance area. I worked for a couple of different companies in international insurance, where I did underwriting, and we had connections with companies all over the world. But one of the things I found out … They did not transfer women very frequently back then. It was very difficult to get a transfer if you are a woman to an overseas management position.”
By this point, Kleifield had broken up with her boyfriend and met her now-husband, Steve, who grew up in the Washington, D.C. area.
“He loved L.A. and he wasn’t gonna leave. So, I was like, ‘I guess I’m going to stay.’ We ended up getting married 40 years ago, next month, and raising the family here,” she explained.
Kleifield was able to quit working in 1990 and concentrate on raising her family, which ultimately included three children.
“My two youngest were ready to go to elementary school. We lived in the Beverly Grove area. I started researching schools. Any parent who, even 20-30 years ago, is looking at public schools, is always afraid. They didn’t ever have a great reputation. You don’t send your kids to your local schools. Well, I did not agree with that. I was determined my children would go to public school, and I felt public school should be good for everybody. And so, I sent my kids to local Hancock Park Elementary School,” she said.
Soon after, she started looking for ways to get involved.
“[It] was a great little school, and we didn’t have enough things. They needed a lot of resources they didn’t have. So, I helped build the booster club organization. And I was president of PTA, and I got involved with their school councils … and I got into all this administrative work on a volunteer basis. I learned a lot about public schools that way. I kind of just stuck with that,” Kleifield said. “It just became kind of my passion. I want to help our public schools be better and get the resources they need. I truly believe that public education is the great equalizer.”
While she now lists herself as “retired,” Kleifield’s work with the Wilshire Rotary Club keeps her as busy as most full-time employees.
“I love learning things. I love meeting people. Part of Rotary is bringing in speakers to both entertain and inform. We work a lot with schools, education is one of our areas of focus. So, it’s all the things that are important. Rotary became my one charity, because they touch on every area that is important to me. They focus on the environment, education, on health, on clean water, maternal and child health,” she explained.
Kleifield said that the world could benefit from having more women in positions of power, citing what she sees as a natural empathy in women.
“I can see the difference between how women approach things and how men approach things. And I just think we need a gentler approach. We need more men stepping up to help women gain that equality,” she said.
Through her years of copious community work, Kleifield has helped that dream inch closer toward reality. In the past, she’s also been the administrative manager of the Mid City West Community Council and a community representative for Los Angeles Unified School District. While most of her professional life, both as an employee and a volunteer, has been spent supporting the education sector, this was not the career path that Kleifield, a Palm Springs-native, set on when she enrolled at the University of San Diego.
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