Sunday Profile: Homecoming a jumping-in point for Stewart
Like a lot of children of the 1960s, Suzanne Stewart said she couldn’t wait to get out of the small town where she grew up, heading off to live the city life and raise her young daughter in Denver, Salt Lake and eventually Boston.
But since her return to Glenwood Springs in 2003 with husband Dave, she has been one of the most active community volunteers on several fronts.
Stewart recalls that she was home helping her late mother, Marge, move into assisted living when Dave called from Boston and said he wanted out of the city and suggested they move to Colorado.
“I was thinking Denver, or maybe Grand Junction, and then he said, ‘No, Glenwood,” she recalled. “I had to think about it at first, but it has been a good move.”
Probably because her’s is a unique perspective, having grown up in Glenwood Springs during a simpler time when the town was kind of a sleepy, not-so-easy-to-reach mountain getaway.
Now, Stewart is on the front lines helping to usher in what she views as an exciting new future as the chamber’s volunteer liaison to the Grand Avenue Bridge Project Leadership Team and the Glenwood Springs’ Tourism Promotion Board.
Recently, she was named as the chamber’s Doc McFadden Volunteer of the Year award recipient.
“I got really involved in helping to spruce up the downtown, started the dog park and just jumped right in the middle of all that was happening in Glenwood,” Stewart said.
Not surprising. Her father, Charles Stewart, who came to Glenwood Springs from Salida in 1949 to work as a water lawyer and later served on the Ninth District judicial bench, was a founding member of the Valley View Hospital board when it was built in the 1950s.
Her mother, Marge, was also quite active in the community and at St. Barnabas’ church.
“Everybody in town knew Marge. You know how they say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Stewart said.
Stewart was born that same year the family moved to Glenwood Springs, in what’s now the Hot Springs spa building which at the time was still serving its function as a convalescent hospital that had been established during World War II.
“One of the fond memories I have was just how much freedom you had growing up in a small town, being able to go outside and play and ride your bicycle around town without any worries,” Stewart said. “Those things are really nice, and it’s hard to find now.”
She remembers the long row of tall trees that lined what was then south Grand Avenue from about 11th Street to the area just past Sayre Park and the outskirts of town just beyond that point.
“It was pretty remarkable,” she said. “I think I was most surprised after I came back that I didn’t know as many people as I did when I grew up here. It was a much bigger town.”
Still, Stewart finds herself doing a lot of the same things with her own daughter, Jennifer, when she’s in town visiting from Denver, as she did with her mother on those visits back home from Boston.
Glenwood was about a third of the size it is now when she was growing up here. “But it’s still a small town in a lot of ways,” she said, comparing it to Marblehead north of Boston where she and Dave resided for many years.
“Small towns are easy to get involved in,” she said, recalling that she also help start a dog park in Marblehead, which provided the impetus to do the same in Glenwood Springs.
It was her skills in the arena of business development and marketing, having worked for several construction companies during her time away from Glenwood, that helped give her a foothold back home. It was chamber President and CEO Marianne Virgil, also a good friend of Stewart’s, who pointed her to an open position at SGM Engineering, where she worked for several years.
“My daily commute went from six hours to two minutes,” she said of her’s and Dave’s move from the Boston area.
Virgili said Stewart exemplifies the volunteer spirit of former chamber director Doc McFadden, for whom the volunteer of the year award is named.
“A local chiropractor, he answered visitor requests in between patient visits at his office,” Virgili said of McFadden, who chaired the chamber board from 1938 to 1952.
“It was said that he was a better chamber director than he was a doctor, so when Doc passed away, the Volunteer of the Year Award was established to honor an outstanding chamber leader,” Virgili explained at the Feb. 27 chamber awards night ceremony.
Stewart represented SGM on the chamber board for a period of time, and has immersed herself in a variety of other volunteer roles, including involvement with the Valley View Hospital Foundation and Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers.
More recently, she was named as the chamber’s liaison to the tourism board and to the bridge project leadership team, which helps keep chamber members in the loop about the construction work and its impacts.
“Her marketing skills contributed to numerous political campaigns, chamber proposals and collateral materials,” Virgili added. “The staff considers her part of their close-knit family and this award acknowledges her many years of service and friendship.”
Stewart recalls the ever-present concerns and debates about the amount of traffic passing through Glenwood Springs on Highway 82 going back to the 1950s and ’60s, especially as Aspen began to grow as a destination ski resort.
“My dad was involved in a lot of those early bypass arguments,” she said. “But we didn’t have the forecasting abilities then that we do now. I think we’re making more informed decisions now based on information that generation didn’t necessarily have.
“We have the ability to look ahead, and I think that’s good,” Stewart said.
Her construction business background has been helpful as she has gotten involved in the Grand Avenue bridge replacement project over the last four years.
The project leadership team includes representatives from several different sectors in the community, whose job it is to stay informed about the weekly ins and outs of the bridge project and report back to their respective organizations.
In the meantime, Stewart said she is also enjoying retirement, and her view up the Roaring Fork Valley from her’s and Dave’s home on the hillside north of the Glenwood Springs Golf Course.
“I guess I was a little surprised I got the (volunteer) award, just because there are so many worthy people out there,” she said. “And even though I am involved, I think of all the other things I could be doing that are just as worthy.”
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Fire investigators are still working on determining the cause of Tuesday’s house fire in Glenwood Springs, which left no one injured but caused extensive damage.