Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
Early in her career, the first licensed female professional engineer in the State of California, Marilyn Jorgensen Reece, reviews plans at her Caltrans office.

by  Jeanne Bonfilio
Issue Date: 01/2007

Award-winning Caltrans engineer, who paved the way for women in the engineering field, is honored.

Recent legislation, Senate Concurrent Resolution 72 authored by Senator Debra Bowen, has renamed the busy Santa Monica Freeway (I-10)/San Diego Freeway (I-405) Interchange, to the “Marilyn Jorgensen Reece Memorial Interchange,” after the pioneer Caltrans freeway engineer.  Not only was Reece an award-winning engineer, she literally paved the way for women in the engineering field as the first licensed female professional engineer (PE) in the State of California.

If that were not interesting enough, Reece’s daughter, District 7’s own Kirsten Stahl, is currently a Senior Transportation Engineer and the District’s Materials Engineer, who, on December 18, just celebrated 27 years of Caltrans state service of her own.

But it was her mother who started it all.  Reece was hired at Caltrans (then called the Division of Highways) in 1948.  After six years of valuable experience, she received her PE in 1954.  Reece then became the Associate Design Engineer for the I-10/I-405 Interchange under then-Governor Edmund Brown, Sr. in the early 1960’s.  In the mid-1960’s she received her first assignment as a Resident Engineer for Construction on the I-605 Freeway.  Reece was also the Senior Transportation Engineer on the $40-million I-210 extension in Sunland in the mid-1970’s, the most expensive construction project ever let in the State at that time, involving a lot of difficult environmental considerations and wetland restoration.  She also performed preliminary design work on the I-105 Century Freeway. 

“What was so interesting about my mother,” said Stahl, “is that she was very much ahead of her time with regard to women working in a field that was historically dominated by men – way before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  My family is elated that this recognition could happen.”  Stahl followed in her mother’s pioneering footsteps in the early 1970’s by enrolling in United States Military Academy at West Point, the second class of women, where she became interested in engineering classes.  She was hired at Caltrans in 1979. 
For her many years of dedicated work, Reece won the Governor’s Award (similar to today’s Excellence in Transportation Awards) for the I-10/405 interchange work in 1965.  Amazingly, 30 years later in 1995, Stahl won the Caltrans Excellence in Transportation Award for pavement restoration for the same exact interchange.  Excellence: it’s all in the family!

Retired in 1983 after 35 years of outstanding state service, Reece went on to do substitute teaching at Cal State Long Beach.  She and husband Alvin also focused on traveling – a lot of traveling – to over 135 countries together.  She suffered a mild stoke in 1991, but that did not deter a family trip to the Panama Canal in March of that year to celebrate Stahl’s 10th wedding anniversary and passing the PE exam as her mother did 27 years earlier.

After some recurring health problems, Reece passed away on May 15, 2004 at the age of 77, having been married for 47 years.  Alvin is now 82 and resides in Los Angeles. 

Stahl said she is very proud of her mother’s accomplishments and this lasting memorial in her honor at a freeway interchange where they both put a lot of heart and soul into their work – and are models for others to follow their dreams.  “My mother was doing what a lot of people wanted to do: professional level work in the field of their choice.” 

Upon payment, four memorial freeway signs will be erected at the interchange in honor and memory of Reece, which are $2,500 each (totaling $10,000).  The California Transportation Foundation, the Caltrans Quarter Century Club and Alvin Reece – are all collecting money or making personal donations to fund the payment and installation of the memorial signs, which are always paid for privately.  To make a contribution for the Marilyn Jorgensen Reece Memorial Interchange signs, please send checks to: The California Transportation Foundation, designated “Reece,” 581 La Sierra Drive, Sacramento, CA  95864.  “We also thank Senator Bowen for her sponsorship of this amazing memorial to my mother,” added Stahl.  “And my family very much appreciates the generosity and support we have received from everyone.”

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Reece oversees construction of the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10)/San Diego Freeway (I-405) Interchange around 1960. Kirsten Stahl, daughter of Marilyn Jorgensen Reece, is proud that the I-10/I-405 Interchange is named in memory of her mother.  Both received transportation awards for their work on the interchange.