By definition, retirement is the withdrawal from an active working life.
While Doug and Vicky Stewart no longer work an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. day in banking and education, the Dunlap couple continues to devote substantial time to numerous causes serving the Peoria area.
Doug retired in 2017 after 44 years in banking in the same building at 301 SW Adams in Peoria. He began his career with Commercial National Bank as a trainee, moving on to trust administrator and eventually vice president and deputy manager of the Trust Division. When First of America Bank took over, he became its local president. National City was up next, where Doug held the regional president position for 10 years. In turn, that became PNC Bank, from which he retired in that top spot.
Vicky retired in 2011 after a career in education, starting in 1973 as a special education teacher for Germantown Hills District 69. She would ascend to director of the Woodford County Special Education Association, leaving in 1993 to spend five years as principal at Peoria’s Northmoor School. She then moved to Illinois Central College, where she served as director of College Development, executive director of Institutional Advancement, dean of Planning, Research & Economic Development and vice president of Planning and Organizational Effectiveness.
Much of what they do today in various roles at Peoria Riverfront Museum, Easterseals Central Illinois, OSF HealthCare, First Baptist Church, Bradley University, Quest Charter Academy, etc., is guided by their religious convictions.
“Our faith has shaped our belief that every person is important and should be given the opportunity for a better life,” Vicky said. “If you look at the list of organizations we’ve been involved with, I think it will be evident that our faith in God and the value of every person has influenced how we spend our time.”
A LIFETIME OF PHILANTHROPY
The Stewarts have been great supporters of nonprofits throughout central Illinois for nearly 50 years. For such they’ve received many honors, some shared, such as the Heart of Illinois United Way McCord Philanthropist of the Year in 2019, Easterseals Central Illinois Tribute Honorees in 2014, and the Community Service Award from the Illinois Park and Recreation Association and Peoria Park District in 2006. Separately, both have received the Prescott E. Bloom Memorial Distinguished Service Award from the Peoria Jaycees.
Additionally, Doug is a Bradley University Centurion, African American Hall of Fame inductee and recipient of the Creve Coeur Club Robert Michel Lifetime Achievement Award.
Vicky has been honored as Sustainer of the Year by the Junior League of Peoria, as well as with the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Award and YMCA’s Frances M. Krasse Professions Award. Additional recognition has come from the Illinois State Board of Education, Bradley University, Peoria Public Schools and University of Illinois College of Education.
Their combined community involvement, meanwhile, would fill an entire page – Illinois Central College Board of Trustees, Germantown Hills School Board, Salvation Army, Youth Farm, Economic Development Council of Central Illinois, Lincoln Academy of Illinois, Bielfeldt Foundation, Vonachen Group, etc.
“It’s rare when you find a couple with their level of intelligence and excellence,” said Sheila Quirk-Bailey, president of Illinois Central College. It’s “very impactful,” she continued, “to have a power couple … share that complete community perspective.”
She credits them with “getting the ball rolling” on many a community effort and getting those involved “rowing in the same direction … They were involved in everything.”
Bruce Budde, ICC’s executive vice president of Administration and Finance, has worked with both Stewarts and uses three words to describe them. Excellence. Commitment. Passion.
“I would just thank them for all they’ve done” and “continue to do in our community,” he said.
The Stewarts grew up in Livingston County 20 miles apart – Vicky in Fairbury and Doug in Cullom. Vicky was 15, Doug 16 when he showed up to work as a lifeguard at the community swimming pool three blocks from her house.
It didn’t take long before Doug asked Vicky on a date.
“I asked my parents and they were concerned because he was from another town,” Vicky said. Her parents put out feelers to learn more about this boy from Cullom.
“I just told them, ‘It’s just one date. I’m not going to marry him,’” she said, laughing.
The two dated throughout high school and college – Doug at Illinois Wesleyan University, Vicky at Illinois State University. In their senior year, the Stewarts married. They celebrate 50 years in January 2023.
Before the wedding, however, they had to reach a common ground about religion. Vicky was raised Apostolic Christian, Doug as a Methodist and Lutheran. When Doug began working at Commercial National Bank in Peoria, his boss suggested they try his church, First Baptist on Lake Avenue in Peoria.
“We found a good home there,” said Vicky. She serves as moderator at the church — its highest layperson position — while Doug is on its finance committee.
SERVICE IS A RESPONSIBILITY
Vicky’s journey into volunteerism began when she was invited to become a member of the Junior League. Doug had a similar experience at the bank where employees were encouraged to pledge to United Way.
“Once you get started, it becomes contagious,” she said.
Equitable access to educational opportunity as critical to future success became a shared driving force. Beyond that, a responsibility to contribute to the lives of others was instilled in Doug and Vicky growing up as just the right thing to do. They have passed that belief along to their own two children, Sarah Stewart de Ramirez, MD, and Blake Stewart, as well as their seven grandchildren.
Stewart de Ramirez, medical director of Population Health Services at OSF HealthCare, explained in a 2020 Peoria Magazine profile that her parents, “viewed their role as to help us grow, question social norms, and not see barriers where others might.”
Their church and the missionaries from around the world with whom they met “showed me the diversity of global life experiences and planted the seed of authentic engagement around issues of equity,” she said.
Quirk-Bailey worked closely with Doug when he served on the ICC Board. “He’s astute about where the issues lie and a huge champion for ensuring that resources and education are opportunities available for all,” she said. “ICC has always been a high-performing institution. Doug was someone who would say, ‘Yes, we’re doing fine, but there’s still unmet needs in this community.’ He has really set the direction for meeting people where they are and to advocate for doing more.”
EMPATHY, RELEVANCE, TIME FOR GRANDKIDS
“To the extent I’m involved, I want to make sure I’m still relevant. If not, I need to move on,” said Doug.
Meanwhile, he learned from a close colleague, former state Rep. David Leitch, that you have to put yourself in others’ shoes.
“You have to have empathy,” he said. “It’s always good to step back and ask why someone feels the way they do.” Once that’s understood, he added, there is common ground for progress.
Now that she’s retired, Vicky looks at her involvement with a more judicious eye.
“I’m still doing volunteer work, but I’m keeping a chunk of that time to be grandma,” she said.
Indeed, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, with the Stewarts’ daughter and son-in-law both in health care, homeschooling their then second-grade and kindergarten grandkids — the whole ball of wax, from the Pledge of Allegiance to PE — fell to grandma and grandpa.
“It was quite an interesting time for all of us,” she said. “I would never wish COVID on us again, but it gave us time to get closer to two of our grandkids,” he said.
Retirement is providing the already adventurous couple time to travel.
Doug’s attitude was always about having something to retire to – family, community, and travel – not retire from.
The entire family heads to Costa Rica this fall. Vicky sees it not only as an opportunity for their grandkids to see the rain forest, but also how other people live. COVID, meanwhile, delayed a trip to the Middle East – Egypt, Jordan, Israel – which is now coming up.
The Stewarts feel blessed. So too, it would seem, is the central Illinois that continues to be the recipient of their collective energy, talents and generosity.
“We aren’t sitting there idly twiddling our thumbs,” said Vicky, chuckling.
Lisa Coon is a Peoria native who had a long career
in the newspaper industry before moving into
marketing and communications