Willie Stewart is a man who knows everyone either because he taught them, or served them through volunteerism and acts of giving.
Willie launched his lifetime of service when he joined the Army Reserves, which uprooted him from his Texas hometown farm and 10 siblings to Fort Lewis, WA.
After serving in the military, Willie stayed in the Army Reserves and began his teaching career as a math and science instructor at Gault Middle School. In 1970, Willie was appointed Tacoma's first African-American principal at Lincoln High School, which made newspaper headlines at the time.
At Lincoln, Willie always looked after students' needs. Willie and his wife would invite students over to their home and feed them dinner in exchange for yard work. Willie aggressively used funds received from the Haas Foundation, which he applied toward fulfilling basic needs that some kids' families could not cover, such as track shoes to participate on a school sports team.
Despite protests against the Vietnam War, Willie made sure to honor Military Appreciation Week at Lincoln High School. He would have all staff members bring their uniform and memorabilia to school. Willie remembers that students were shocked to learn that one of their teachers had earned a Purple Heart, a discovery that transformed the way they viewed and interacted with their instructor.
Having served "on the ground" in the Tacoma Public Schools system as a teacher and principal, Willie joined the school board until his retirement in 2005. To this day, Willie continues to be heavily invested in youth development and education through his leadership on the boards for Foundation for Tacoma Students and Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound.
Willie Stewart is a man who practices gratitude. When he graduated from high school, Willie's older sister and brother-in-law paid for his college education at Texas Southern University. For four years, Willie lived in their Houston home and walked to campus each day. Later on, when Willie's brother-in-law died, he sent checks to his sister until her death.
Willie grew up in what he calls an "emotional" Baptist Church, and faith continues to play a big role in his service today. On Sunday mornings, Willie can be found in the basement of Urban Grace, wearing a bright orange vest and serving hot meals to folks during the church's weekly community breakfasts.
Willie's volunteerism extends beyond educational and religious settings. After being diagnosed with prostate cancer in the 1991, Willie has spearheaded community efforts to educate, support and advocate for others impacted by prostate cancer by facilitating a support group. He helps coordinate a Relay for Life team each year, and participates in the American Diabetes Walk. A scholarship has been established in his name that is administered by the United Way of Pierce County known as the Willie Stewart Community Scholarship. He is the Founding Member of Alpha Phi Alpha, serves on the board of Palmers Scholars, Foundation for Tacoma Students, Goodwill Foundation, Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission, Buffalo Soldiers Museum, Tacoma Athletic Commission and Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound where he has served for over 40 years. He is the breakfast coordinator for the Urban Grace Church and is program chair for the Downtown Kiwanis Club.
An avid sports fan, Willie supports student athletes by attending sports games all over the district-mostly at Lincoln High School, because of his strong ties there-and through his work on the Tacoma Athletic Commission, recognizing and awarding scholarships to amateur athletes in the area.
Willie is the kind of person who willingly involves himself in activities and causes that engage his sympathies, whether it be youth development, homeless outreach, healthcare services, or sports. His investment in relationships and service makes him a powerful influence in the Tacoma community. Although he proudly identifies as a Texan, Willie has been an integral force in the Tacoma community for nearly six decades.
The biggest change Willie has seen in his time in the Tacoma community is an influx of diversity and greater involvement by people of color in all sectors. He identifies one of Tacoma's unique strengths to be its continuity in leadership, especially as it relates to education. As he envisions the future of Tacoma, Willie would like to see more services for senior citizens and the homeless, services which are made possible through the contributions of people like Willie.
"Because I cannot travel with my family, I volunteer and contribute to charities," Willie said. "My hope is that there would be greater involvement of those who have…not in money, but in service."
It is evident that Willie's heart is in all of the work he does. "Every job I've had, I loved," Stewart says.