Lowell Steward, a UCSB Hall of Fame athlete and one of the last surviving black World War II pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, died Wednesday, Dec. 17, at a Ventura hospital. He was 95. His son, Lowell Jr., said Steward died of natural causes, “peacefully, with his family around him.”
Steward, a native of Los Angeles, participated in basketball and track and field at Santa Barbara State College (UCSB). He was a star on the 1940-41 Gaucho basketball team that won 20 games and captain of the 1941-42 team. Initially rejected by army recruiters when he tried to sign up after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps after his graduation and was sent to pilot training at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
He served overseas for 15 months and was stationed in Capodecina, Naples, Ramitelli, and Salermo, Italy, where he flew P-39s, P-40s, and P-51 Red Tails. He flew 96 missions out of Naples, and while stationed in Ramitelli, he flew 47 bomber escort and strafing missions with the 15th Air Force. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross.
After discharge from the service, Steward returned to Los Angeles, where he became a real estate broker and appraiser for 40 years. He was a co-founder of the Tuskegee Airmen Scholarship Foundation which has given away more than $2 million in scholarships to deserving students across the country. He retired in Oxnard.
In 2004, the UCSB Alumni Association honored Steward with the Lifetime Achievement Award for Public Service.
Steward was preceded in death by his Santa Barbara sweetheart and wife of 60 years, Helen Jane Ford. He is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
His memorial service will take place at 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 22, at the Angelus Funeral Home in his old neighborhood, 3875 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles.