ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Profile: Supporting kids has been his life's mission

The dust, tragedy and fires of World War I were still smoldering when our good neighbor came into the world in the family home in Duluth. Our city, at that time, was an industrial giant promising a strong future. Iron ore, a new steel mill in Mor...

The dust, tragedy and fires of World War I were still smoldering when our good neighbor came into the world in the family home in Duluth. Our city, at that time, was an industrial giant promising a strong future. Iron ore, a new steel mill in Morgan Park and a strong timber industry kept Duluth viable and attractive.
Dick Stewart was born on Feb. 7, 1920, in the family home at 1805 East 6th St.
It was mostly wilderness going up the hill from there into the Chester Park neighborhood. That, of course, was a benefit to growing youngsters, especially boys, because the opportunities to explore and pretend were endless.
Dick's father, Richard E. Stewart, operated the Stewart Lock and Key shop on West First Street downtown. Previously, at the turn of the century, he had been a stationary engineer at the old Duluth Normal School, which ultimately became Duluth State Teachers' College and today is the University of Minnesota -- Duluth campus. He opened his shop in 1908.
The "Roaring '20s" reflected prosperous times for the area, but they also represented a strong surge of independence as many people opted to run their own businesses. It was satisfying, of course, but most entrepreneurs found out rather quickly that running a small business was not an 8 to 5 daily experience. It represented 12-hour days six and seven days a week. Young Dick learned about that at an early age, and has been on the treadmill ever since as the active owner of Stewart's Wheel Goods on East Superior Street.
The family business specializes in hockey supplies, bicycles and specialty sporting goods. The small business responsibility became a normal way of life when Dick was barely old enough to brush his own teeth without Mom supervising every movement. His mom, Gertrude, was from England.
Dick attended Chester Park Elementary School from kindergarten through the sixth grade. He then went on to East Junior High School and ultimately Duluth Central High School, where he graduated in 1937. Dick walked to school at all three locations, rain, shine, snow or sleet.
During his early growing years, there was always plenty to do in the neighborhood. He loved baseball and ice-skating, and did both with his buddies.
Dick liked school, especially arithmetic and music. The family had a cabin in Menominee, Wis., and brief visits during the summer were memorable. But Chester Park and the wonders it contained were a highlight of his leisure moments.
Dick also had the opportunity to attend YMCA Camp Miller near Moose Lake in the summer. He remembers well the leadership offered by the legendary Bill Hanson. Dick also learned how to swim at the Boy's YMCA, which was located across the street from Duluth Central.
The family was active at the First Christian Church on 12th Avenue East and Fourth Street. Dick remains active today in the same church, which is now the United Baptist Christian Church.
His mom was head of the Church Women's Circle, and when Dick became a little older, he sang in the choir as a tenor. That voice opened up other opportunities in the years ahead.
At East Junior High in the early 1930s, the Great Depression was on, and there was no time to play around. Dick spent most of his spare time working after school and weekends at his father's shop. He did, however, join the school choir, and that tenor voice which became the liking of band director John Thomason was pointing Dick in a prescribed direction. He also took saxophone lessons as well.
At Central, he played the saxophone in the band, sang in the Boys' A Capella Choir, and he played particular attention to his studies, especially history and geography. He didn't have time for much more because his father's business was taking up more and more of his time and obvious interest.
Dick graduated from Duluth Central in 1937, and that fall entered Duluth Junior College, then located at Denfeld High School. He took some business courses and was advised he should go into real estate sales. That never happened. In fact, Dick didn't like Duluth JC and the following summer dropped out and entered the Minnesota Civil Service School.
He again took business courses, and in 1940 he worked half-days at the H. J. Heinz Company office and the rest of the time with his father.
Dick's life was now getting a little complicated. Dad was dying of emphysema. The little spare time he had was devoted to an area band with Bud Davis and Bob Fowler. It was fun, but business responsibilities always took precedence.
In 1941, he received his draft notice and was deferred because of his father's illness. Dad died in September 1942 and shortly after Dick entered the army. He moved from post to post and was ultimately discharged in 1946.
Sergeant Stewart returned to Duluth and returned to the family business, which had been managed by his older sister, Joyce, and some loyal employees. The building was demolished to make room for the Center Bowling Alley. During the interim, Stewart's relocated nearby but returned to the new Center Building with a small shop at 24 North 3rd Avenue West.
The problem was, Dick was developing the business, which included small engine repair, gun repair, and lawn mower sharpening. He sold a few Schwinn bicycles when he was able to afford purchasing some from the distributor.
In 1956, Stewart's left the downtown area and opened a new store called Stewart's Wheel Goods at 1501 London Road. His business began to sprout, and his Schwinn Bicycle dealership became the mainstay of his efforts. He estimates he has sold about 20,000 bicycles throughout the area since his humble beginning on West First Street to his present location at 1502 East Superior Street, a move he made in 1966.
Stewart represents the tenacity of small business entrepreneurs who have toughed out the bad times with patience, frugality and a stubborn desire to weather the ongoing challenges of business in a changing economic environment.
Dick met Maxine Giliuson by chance while visiting friends. The mutual attraction led to dates, an engagement and marriage on Jan. 22, 1949. The couple has two children. Susan is a registered nurse in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., and Lesley is married to Hal Lenox, living here in Duluth. Maxine was an outstanding bookkeeper and worked side by side with Dick for years. Dick was, of course, pleased, but he quickly points out that another fine lady, Alice Grozdanich, was also a great bookkeeper who worked in the store for 17 years.
The store on East Superior Street not only features bicycles but a wide selection of sporting equipment. Several years ago, Leonard "Red" Lundeen paid Dick a visit one day looking for a sponsorship for his Super Bantam hockey team. The kids were principally from the Central and East hillside neighborhoods in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades. Lundeen, a former Denfeld athlete, was really into this hockey program as a coach, and he needed some help. Dick became a sponsor in a program that eventually affected hundreds of kids in the years to come.
The fact is, those "Red" Lundeen hockey teams were so good, they attracted the interest of the president of Northwest Airlines who had a son playing in the same league in Edina. After he watched the Duluth team in action, he flew the kids, Duluth and Edina, all over the country and Canada playing different teams. Some of the kids, like Poky Trachsel, made quite a name later on at UMD.
Dick has sponsored several Peewees and other Bantam teams over the past 30 years. He has also been involved sponsoring Little League baseball as well.
"Kids are the best investment anybody can have," he says.
There is more to Dick Stewart. He has been active in the original Duluth Light Opera Company for years, as a cast member and also as a soloist with a very nice tenor voice.
He and Maxine had a circle of friends that goes back 50 years. They included Ed and Jean Manthey, Bob and Jan Eacobacci, Dick and Ginny Ringsred, Don and Margaret Fleckenstein and John and Kathleen Moerke. They continue to hold potluck suppers at their homes, but the group has narrowed down considerably now with only Jean and Ed here year-round.
Maxine is a good knitter, and she and friends, Jan, Ginny, Barbara Carlson and Lois Johnson operated the Spinning Wheel shop in the Stewart Building for several years.
Dick and Maxine like to travel and have taken trips to Europe, England and Scotland. Dick is a continuing member of the Bulldog Club and supports UMD whenever he can.
Dick Stewart is a small businessman with a big heart and an intense interest in this community.

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.