Jerry Stewart was adopted as an infant by devout Mormons, Adiel Stewart (then Mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah) and his wife DeEtte Buys Stewart. For his 16th birthday, his father gave him a magnificent stallion named Chief, with the proviso that if he could break him, he could keep him. Jerry succeeded in breaking the horse but broke his arm in the process. He forgave Chief and continued to ride him every day. He was a lifelong sports fanatic, playing high school football and baseball, but barely graduated because he’d skipped so many days of school to go skiing. After graduation, Jerry completed a Mormon Mission in Long Island, New York. Converts were scarce, but he did spend a night in jail, for knocking on a door in an exclusive neighborhood which banned religious proselytizing.
In his early 20s he enlisted in the Marines and when it was discovered that he was an experienced skier, he was pulled out of boot camp and sent to Las Vegas to teach skiing to other Marines, bound for Korea. However, his military career soon ended in an Honorable Discharge after a torrential rainstorm triggered a severe asthma attack, which put him in the hospital. He returned to Salt Lake City and dabbled at various money-making pursuits. One was a shopping cart cleaning business, which was not a success. He also had a slightly more lucrative side “job” as a pool shark with partners Lefty and Pop Eye. After some harrowing escapes, he opted for a safer career tending bar at the local Elks Club. Here he met the love of his life, my mother Gail, a twice divorced, lapsed Catholic, mother of three. Although he was not our biological father, he became “Dad” to me and my two younger brothers when he married Mom and we all moved to California.
Over the next few decades, Dad tried several ways to support his new family. He pumped gas and sold real estate and worked as a security guard for a while in Southern California. I was out of the nest by the time he moved Mom and my two brothers up the coast and got a security guard job at the Oakland Coliseum, before he found a better paying job at a can manufacturing company, where he lost a finger repairing a machine. After another move, even further up the coast, he found a job he truly loved as a log scaler, for the Bureau of Logging, in the redwoods of Humboldt County. Log scalers, for those who might wonder, calculate the value of a given load of logs, bound for the sawmill. This is based on the size and quality of the wood, given the amount of insect and fungus damage. The work was arduous, but Dad was in his element, enjoying the mental arithmetic, and he stuck with it until he retired.
Widowed for the last 20 years of his life, he was a good man, a good friend, and a beloved Dad. Ever the optimist, despite his failing lungs and damaged spine, his answer to “How are you?” was always a hearty “Super!”
Ten years ago, my husband Allan Stewart-Oaten and I sprang Dad from a nursing home in Humboldt County and brought him to live with us in Santa Barbara. Although he missed his friends in Blue Lake–KC Murphy, Ron Brunson and other members of the Blue Lake Grange–Dad quickly connected with our neighbor Stan Tucker, to swap stories and play “chickenfoot” dominoes each week. He was hit hard by the loss of his two friends Ron and Stan from natural causes.
Dad loved celebrating holidays with our extended family and never forgot anyone’s birthday. He’ll be missed by Grandson Josh Stewart-Oaten, Grandson Nick Stewart-Oaten (wife Arwen Johnson) and their sons Jack & Leo Stewart-Oaten, Albert Oaten (wife Katie Davis) and their sons Alex & Adrian Oaten. Also, by his Grandson Klee Orthel and by Klee’s daughter, Vanessa Kuersten (husband Bryce) and their daughter Charlee and son Avery. And by his son Vern Stewart (and Vern’s son and daughter, Michael and Kristin Statt). Although he couldn’t see them often enough, Dad was very fond of his nieces and nephews, including Cathee Pudnos, Patrick Earhart, Denise Earhart and Denise’s children Tiffany Cain and her brother John Cain.
Our family would like to express our deep gratitude to the nurses (especially Nurse Elaine at Station 3) and the staff (especially Ann Monroe) at Valle Verde Nursing Home for their kindness and tender care.