Life Remembered: Vicki Stewart 'the epitome of volunteerism'
CHAMPAIGN – Friends knew her as a "classic example" of how people can help others, and as one who did not let her challenges hamper her spirit.
A recently retired program director for Family Service of Champaign County, Vicki Stewart died Saturday morning at the age of 64.
"She was the epitome of volunteerism," said Dave Lawrence, who worked with her on various volunteer projects.
Ms. Stewart served Champaign County in various capacities: in her Family Service role working out of the Stevick Senior Center in downtown Champaign, as a county board member and as a Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District board member.
But Lawrence said he will remember her for her initiative to give back, whether the project at hand was simple or critical.
"That was very, very, very important to her," said Robbie Edwards, coordinator for Retired and Senior Volunteer Program and one of Ms. Stewart's colleagues. "She just felt volunteering was a way to give back to the community basically."
Her brother, James Stewart, said Ms. Stewart lived to build the RSVP, which recruits and places seniors in meaningful volunteer opportunities. She began working there in 1990.
"Her life was pretty much running the RSVP program," he said. "By all indications, she did a pretty good job."
The effort is meant to keep seniors active, fit and involved, and it was "very near to her heart," said Karen Bodnar, another co-worker.
The program was for individuals who are 55 or older – or rather, as Ms. Stewart would say, "55 or better."
"She also recruited volunteers to go and recruit volunteers," Lawrence said.
Colleagues say recognizing others was a large part of her mission. She was constantly nominating other programs for awards based on their work.
Ms. Stewart spent most of her life in the area, but moved in and out of Champaign County at times. She attended Urbana High School and graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in journalism.
She fought personal battles during her life: Multiple sclerosis made necessary the use of a wheelchair and family issues led to a separation with her husband.
But she was able to keep a sense of humor about her, Lawrence said.
"The struggle just to get through a day in her life didn't seem to faze her," Lawrence said.
Ms. Stewart became interested in the MTD when she found bus accessibility limited, James Stewart said. Instead of complaining, she effected change by becoming a board member.
"Some people try to be good, and they don't succeed," Edwards said. "She didn't even try, she just was a good person."
A service has been tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. July 24 at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Urbana.
Lawrence said he will remember her specifically for being an open person, having a purposeful behavior and being a snappy dresser.
"She always dressed to the nines," Lawrence said. "You never saw her out in public when she didn't look nice."