By Bobbie Wallinger
It was with sincere sadness I read of Thelma Stewart’s passing this past week. Having been living out of state for the past six and a half years, I’ve been back in Stockton for some time now and kept thinking need to give Thelma a call. But sadly, now I shall be attending her funeral Mass on Wednesday, and not have a chance to tell her how much I treasured all she did for our community.
Thelma was one of a kind. Energetic, determined and, above all, generous. My introduction to Thelma was when I was a young teacher of developmentally challenged adults. Thelma came to our school to learn about a catering program we had just started. After seeing our set up Thelma asked only two questions; “Do you need any money for supplies?” followed by, “Bobbie, when are you going to join LARCS?”
My response to the first question was, “well some aprons would be nice” and then, “What is LARCS?” Needless to say, Thelma explained it was an organization of women dedicated to aiding retarded citizens and a fund raiser was planned in three weeks out at the Stewart’s Ranch.
I agreed and within two weeks, my students were the proud recipients of a dozen beautifully monogramed aprons and a generous check to purchase new cookware for the class. Yes, I joined LARCS and on a scorching summer day was helping shuck corn for the two hundred plus guests expected that evening shoulder to shoulder with Thelma and several other LARCS all sweating buckets for a good cause.
Over the years I watched Thelma as she provided support to hundreds of important causes in our community from the Arts to athletics, United Way, Community Council, Special Olympics, Chamber of Commerce to name only a few. Her constant financial to support to the Walton Developmental Center was without equal and when she learned I needed some under writing for an experimental theatre project at Stockton Civic Theatre featuring students with developmental disabilities, her only two questions were, “how much do you need?” And after I gave her a proposal, her second question was “we’ll set up an account for you at the Bank is that OK?” The Bank was UNION SAFE, established by her husband’s family decades before.
Over the next nineteen years Thelma continued serve as the primary underwriter and principal sponsor of the production which grew from an initial cast of 14 students from the S.J. Co. Activity Center to a cast of 80 adults and children from seven different facilities in and about Stockton.
Honored with countless awards, among which, Stocktonian of the Year, it was disappointing that the only tribute to her appearing in the local paper was the obituary paid for by her family.
On behalf of the thousands of people Thelma Stewart helped and nurtured, thank you, from us all.