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Living Treasure: John Stewart

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By Colleen Olinger

“If everyone in the world had a neighbor like John, this would be a wonderful world.”
Behind most endeavors is someone who just does his job, keeps things going, avoids the limelight – and is indispensable. Such a one is 2014 Living Treasure John Stewart.
John was born in New York City and raised mostly in Richland, Washington, where his father worked at the Hanford Atomic Site. He graduated from Washington State College with a degree in psychology, but two years in the Army convinced him that a different specialty might enhance his job prospects. Returning to school, he earned a master’s degree in mathematics. He and Margaret married in 1955; a 60th wedding anniversary beckons. John hired on at the Los Alamos Laboratory in 1959 as a computer programmer (later system manager). He started working in an astronomy group, then oceanography, and ended with seismology.
“When I retired, I didn’t know what to do with myself, what to keep me off the street.” John reached out to the community.
For several years, he taught an HTML web page design class and other classes at the Betty Ehart Senior Center. Currently he has two jobs with the Los Alamos County Senior Centers – managing the website and serving as the newsletter editor. The newsletter comes out once a month, is nine pages long plus a standard outer cover, and comes in color when obtained over the internet. It takes “two full solid days” to do the editing. He does this at the Center (rather than at home) because contributors come in at different times with their articles.
“I call myself a layout editor. I take all these articles and in some way I try to paste them all wherever they can go to fill up the sheets.” Besides routinely having to remind people by phone to get their articles in, “another difficult thing is rounding up pictures. … I love it when we are short on articles and I can look on the internet for filler sayings or jokes.” John singles out Senior Center Director Pauline Schneider for her support.
His volunteer work often involves the office of treasurer, a job generally hidden - but fortunately not thankless.
He served as Unitarian Church treasurer. Then as house/grounds chairman, managed the laying of a stone patio at the front of the church; he now helps with the sound system.
He served as treasurer on the board of the Los Alamos Retired and Senior Organization (LARSO), which runs the Senior Center with a paid bookkeeper.
He is the treasurer of the Friends of the Senior Center of Los Alamos, he is currently on the board of the local AARP chapter 492 - as treasurer, and also is treasurer of the Laboratory Retirees Group (LRG), as well as editor of its newsletter.
He is legislative chairman of the Retired Public Employees Association (RPEA) of Los Alamos board which supports those who are retired under the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) of California.
As suits his low-key demeanor, John does not mention the fact that his name (with that of Art Cox) is on a famous Russian language Cox/Stewart article in a Russian astrophysical publication (1969) on stellar opacities (energy flow through materials).
John served on the Little Theatre board for several years. He remains active - passionate about working backstage for Little Theatre and Light Opera productions. “I enjoy building sets. … I’m like a little kid given pieces of wood, nails and a hammer who happily hammers away. The sets for the Light Opera in particular are just wonderful. They are so great to build up and up sixteen to twenty feet.” Ingenuity is the name of the game when bringing sets through a stage entrance opening which is only twelve feet high. The stage crew adds hinges to a set and then back-braces it onstage during the performance, an innovation requiring energy and fast action. For several years John helped with stage lighting for Light Opera. It was fun, he says, crawling along the ceiling adjusting lights according to instructions from a master in the light booth.
John was treasurer for the Atom Mashers Homebrew Club for a number of years. Members would bring homemade beer so others could try it, sometimes ‘judging’ the beer to improve it and exchanging recipes. John no longer brews beer, but he still takes an interest in the club. The big push now for the Atom Mashers, he says, is the beer co-op scheduled (hopefully) to open in Los Alamos in about a year. (People can join the Atom Mashers by contacting Mike Hall.)
John’s community volunteering began long before he retired and centered on his children. When his son, Bruce, was old enough to join Cub Scouts, leaders were in short supply. “I thought, oh well, they’re having a hard time with the Cub Scout group, so I went and joined and became a pack master to keep it going." He continued through Boy Scouts until his son attained Eagle Scout. "Then my girls, Laurie and Julie, were about the right age and I continued being a scout leader for them.” John and his co-leaders took both Boy and Girl Scout Groups camping every month, winter or summer. “Several times we camped in the snow by the Ski Hill area. … We mainly just dug a trench in the snow - then covered it over with a tarp and put snow on top. It turned out very warm.”
Swimming was also important in the Stewart household, involving all three children and both parents. Margaret was President of the Los Alamos Aquatomics; John helped out at Aquatomics and High School swim meets. Both John and Margaret served as Barranca Mesa Pool Association officers.
How does he sum up his and Margaret’s experience in Los Alamos? “Los Alamos is a wonderful town to live in. There’s so much you can do and the people are very nice. We feel sheltered compared to what we read about in other towns. We are very thankful that we’re here. .. I’ve enjoyed it all, and I hope I can continue doing these things for many more years.”
So does the rest of Los Alamos.