BARTOW – Lifelong resident William H. “Bill” Stuart, who passed away last month, will have his name displayed at the Polk County History Center for many years to come.
In 2015, he loaned to the History Center much of his collection for its fishing exhibit — and to Stuart, the word loaned meant a long time.
“I hope it stays there until we all go to heaven,” Stuart said the week before the exhibit opened on Aug. 13, 2015.
Of course, that won’t be the only reason people will remember Stuart, who died at age 82 Feb. 21. The Bartow native leaves behind more than his history of fishing and hunting and raising a family in this city — he is leaving behind what friends describe as an unforgettable and commanding legacy.
“When (Stuart) spoke, it was so eloquent,” fellow Bartow Rotary member Anita Stasiak said. “He so impressed me with his voice and everything he knew.”
Two weeks ago, at a Bartow Rotary meeting, several longtime friends remembered the man who was a member of the service organization for most of his life, serving twice as president and once as the district governor.
“Bill made us a better Rotary Club. Leading with Rotary was all it was about (for him) and carry on the tradition,” fellow Rotarian Ernie Cooper said.
Polk Sheriff Grady Judd attended the meeting and said, “You can’t think of (Bartow) Rotary without thinking of Bill … he was one of the greatest men I knew.”
Scott Sjoblom, next year’s Rotary Club president and cur- rent city commissioner, has known Stuart since his childhood, recalling that Stuart gave him his first job when Sjoblom was just 11. Stuart had hired Sjoblom to pull weeds from his lawn.
At the end of the day, Stuart gave him $6. Sjoblom thanked him, but it was apparent he wasn’t impressed with the amount of money he was paid. What followed was one of many instances of Stuart’s sense of humor.
“He said ‘after working all day, you didn’t get very far’ -- so it was $1 per weed I pulled,” Sjoblom recalled.
Sjoblom said he learned a lifelong lesson from the exchange.
Well known as it was that Stuart skipped school a bit when he was younger, it was evident it was not because he frowned on education. He imparted on the young how important it is to get an education.
To his end, he did earn a Master’s degree from Wharton School of Business. He was involved in the Rotary Speech Contest and he and fellow Rotarian S.L. Frisbie started an organization aimed at helping educate youth. Frisbie said they started Youth Opportunity Unlimited ,which he described as a “boys and girls ranch on a shoestring.”
One of Stuart’s daughters, Crosland Stuart, said that was just the way Stuart was — he was always helping others.
“Daddy was one of those people with big visions,” she said. “He was also making sure execution was coupled with it. If you have vision without execution that’s daydreaming. He wasn’t about daydreaming. He wanted to make an impact everyday.”
As a child, Stuart befriended William Franklin Eger, a fellow Bartowian who became one of the best-known lure makers in the world. In 1946, Eger Bait Manufacturing Co. became the largest in the southeastern U.S. It was because of Eger that Stuart started the fishing collection that is on display at the History Center.
Stuart was an active father who was known to bring his daughters along to most everything he did.
“Daddy just wanted to do things with us,” Crosland Stuart recalled. “He grew up hunting and we grew up hunting and didn’t think anything about being a girl.”
If there is one thing Stuart may best be remembered for, it may be his dedication to Polio Plus — a major project of the Rotary Club since the early 1980s. He was the Polio Plus Chairman in 2013-14 and has been a major fundraiser since its inception.
Always driven by faith, vision, civic mindedness and service, Stuart’s career included mining, citrus and manufacturing. He worked with many Rotary Clubs and received many medals and commendations. Stuart was involved in the Scholars Program, Girl Scouts, Erskine College and Seminary.
W.H. “Bill” Stuart is survived by his wife of 57 years, Nancy Sell Stuart, of Bartow; two daughters — Kennedy Satterfield of Charlotte, N.C., and Crosland Stuart of Winter Park; five grandchildren and a great grandson. He is also survived by his sister, Nelle Kennedy Terry, of Bartow, and other extended family.
“We will miss (Stuart), but we will carry on his thoughts and teaching,” Cooper said. “He was service above self in every way.”