'Rochester icon' Chub Stewart was known for giving everything to his community

Mar. 7—ROCHESTER — In 1992, more than 5,000 athletes descended on Rochester for the AAU Junior Olympic Games, causing the city's capacity as a host to stretch at the seams.

Over the course of the event, the city became center stage to victories and losses. But for one of the organizers behind the scenes, the mere fact that it was being played out in southeast Minnesota was cause for celebration in and of itself.

The man was Chub Stewart, co-chair of the Junior Olympic games. As successful as those games may have been, they were just one of the many victories he championed for the community over nearly a century's worth of lifetime.

"It was a huge, huge national event," former city councilman Ed Hrusak said about the '92 games. "We didn't even really have room for all the athletes. ... Chub was one of the leaders to go out and utilize the resources the city had. He was a true leader that got people to want to help."

Stewart died on March 1, 2024 at the age of 93. Born as "Howard," he was almost exclusively known as "Chub." It was a moniker few know the origin of, but one that everyone knew nonetheless.

In a town known for importing talent, he became somewhat of a unicorn — someone born into and shaped by a city that would be unrecognizable today while simultaneously being one of the builders shaping what it would go on to become.

Stewart graduated from Rochester High School, the precursor to all three of the city's modern high schools. He later graduated from Rochester Junior College, the precursor to Rochester Community and Technical College.

He worked at IBM for 30 years from 1956 to 1986. Olmsted County Commissioner David Senjem said even if it wasn't his official title, Stewart became the IBM ambassador to the community.

But his career was ultimately just a portion of the impact he left behind. From local government to civic engagement, there was hardly a boardroom Stewart didn't come to influence: The YMCA, the chamber of commerce, the visitors bureau, the list goes on and on and on.

"Chub was a Rochester icon," Senjem said. "He was one of these omnipresent guys that was always there. He lived Rochester. He worked Rochester. He bled Rochester."

One visible way his legacy can be seen is in the sports facilities the city has gained. That came through his involvement in the Rochester Amateur Sports Commission, part of a larger statewide initiative to establish sports facilities in different communities.

At the time, Stewart was tasked with what may have seemed like the runt of the litter.

"Rochester didn't have too much," Senjem said. "And Chub was given this thing called volleyball, which he didn't know anything about but came to love."

And so, after years of effort, Rochester became home to the National Volleyball Center, which is attached to Century High School.

He also was one of the movers and shakers behind the establishment of the field house at RCTC.

His gravitational force often expanded up to the Minnesota State Legislature when he was trying to secure funding for one project or the next. Another friend and colleague, John Wade, said that Stewart would recruit anyone who he thought was of a similar mind.

"Chub welcomed people into his world who were passionate about this community and making it the very best it could be," Wade said. "He really did exemplify to me not only what a gentleman was, but really what a good citizen was."

As a Rochester native, he saw Rochester change drastically throughout his life. When he was born in 1930, the city had a population of 20,621. Throughout the course of his life, it grew more than five-fold to more than 121,000 by the time he died.

During those years, he was one of the advocates pushing the city forward in any way he could, becoming a relentless proponent for his hometown and community.

"He was just absolutely in love with this community all his life," Senjem said. "You just don't get Chub Stewarts anymore."

But as much as he poured himself into the community he loved, Wade said it was ultimately a symbiotic relationship: Yes, Stewart dedicated much of his time and energy to the city, but there was a reason for that.

It was where he was born. It's where he met his wife. It's where he raised his children. It was home.

"Not only did Chub give a lot to Rochester. Rochester gave everything to Chub," Wade said. "He gave back everything that Rochester gave to him — He never stopped doing that."