When beloved local radio host and philanthropist Lila Jean Stewart saw a cause that has improved her community, she was inclined to support it, whether or not her donation was made public.
Stewart, who died in 2018 at the age of 85, touched many lives and inspired generosity and admiration wherever she went, described those who knew her.
His presence at social engagements was important. She was the kind of person who showed up at a fundraiser or a “million dollar-like” party. At a Southwestern barbecue-themed University of Colorado in Boulder party, she donned a skirt, a squash flower necklace, and a giant buffalo-head belt buckle. Then there was the flapper-themed fundraiser, when she showed up in an authentic dress, dripping with shimmering pearls.
“It wasn’t a show,” said Linda Snyder, a longtime friend. “She always found someone who could make or find it for her.”
Stewart has curated many rare and unique items throughout her life and seemed to know exactly what she wanted, whether it was crystal champagne flutes or a steaming hot dog, sporting her nickname: Lady Swan. She and her husband, the late William “Bill” Stewart, were known for their generosity and supported many local organizations, including the Longmont Museum, which is named after their auditorium; the Longmont Hospital Foundation; and the TLC Learning Center.
The objects that Stewart collected during her lifetime provide a glimpse of the strong and generous woman, who was a pillar of the community.
Stewart’s legacy of giving back continues in the form of an estate auction. His Longmont home and belongings are all sold to benefit the Stewart Family Foundation, which supports local nonprofits, hospitals and educational institutions. The online auction for her home ends Monday, and the personal items auction ends July 28. Items up for auction start at prices ranging from less than $ 5 to a few thousand.
After moving to Longmont in 1959, Stewart and her husband, William, purchased KLMO, a local radio station. The Times-Call reported that Stewart was working alongside Bill at the station, defying 1950s and 1960s expectations to stay home and be a housewife. She created “Happy Talk,” a two-hour weekday morning show that highlighted women’s issues, along with leaked recipes and maintenance tips. The power of the station increased under their ownership from 250 watts to 10,000 watts. Prior to her retirement in 1987, Stewart’s show amassed fans and led her to publish listeners cookbooks.
The couple’s only child, Linda Jean Stennette, graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Stennette died at the age of 55 in 2009 from open heart surgery.
A unique collection, a unique person
Auctioneer OJ Pratt, owner of Pacific Auction & Realty, which manages the estate’s sale, knew Stewart through local charity auctions, where he said she was often at the forefront to support a local cause.
Pratt has sold a lot in his nearly 40 years of running the Longmont business, but nothing like the Stewart collection.
“I sold roughly a billion dollars worth of stuff,” Pratt said. “So for me to see something that I haven’t seen is pretty rare. “
Among the items is an antique tiger oak entrance clock, which has a unique striped wood grain and 40 collectibles crafted by artist Jay Strongwater, including a decorative tree approximately 6 feet tall .
The Stewarts house itself, at 2011 Ridgeview Drive, which was custom built in the 1990s, is being auctioned. Along with the elevator that serves all three levels, another one of a kind throughout the 5,000 square foot home is the incorporation of swans from the chandeliers to the hardwood floors to the sink and tub faucets.
Snyder said she believed Stewart liked swans because she found them pretty and liked some of their qualities, like the fact that they chose a life partner.
Stewart and Snyder were introduced when Snyder was a child. At the time, his parents owned Snyder Jewelers, which Snyder now runs. Stewart frequented the store to find jewelry and she quickly became a family friend.
The swans just seemed to show up when Stewart was around, Snyder said.
While traveling to New York City together in 2011, Snyder and Stewart stumbled upon a swan-themed crystal centerpiece, sitting outside an antique store. Stewart walked out of the store as the coin’s new owner – an item that is now among those up for auction.
Anyone who knew Stewart well knew how strong she was, even after a car crash in 2009 that nearly severed her right leg and caused her to use a cane. If Snyder reached out to support his arm, Stewart would remind him that she didn’t need help.
“Even when she was struggling, she was so strong and so independent,” Snyder said.
At the former Stewarts’ home on Wednesday, Snyder was inundated with memories of her longtime friend. It wasn’t long before Stewart donated when she saw a great cause. She said Stewart made a spontaneous donation of $ 10,000 to an Irish dance school to provide scholarships for children whose families could not afford classes, after Stewart saw one of their shows.
“She loved trying to guide or teach people,” Snyder said. “She really had a soft spot for children in general. There were some big donations that she made that were public and that people knew about, but (there were) a number of times I would see her give them just because she cared.
Drifting into the house on Wednesday, Snyder recalled how Stewart brought people together with his Christmas parties and tea time inside the Longmont house. Several of Stewart’s tea sets, one with swans and another adorned with colorful butterflies, are among the auction items.
Unparalleled love for sport
In addition to the Stewarts’ love for nonprofits that improved the Boulder County community, they both shared a passion for sports, including baseball, basketball, hockey, and football.
Jim Newcomb first met the Stewarts in 1993 during a Colorado Rockies game. The couple and Newcomb had season tickets and ended up side by side. In 81 games, Newcomb got to know Stewart and her husband, and they became friends. In 2010, Newcomb began helping the foundation and is today its president.
Stewart’s love for the sport can be seen in many of the auction items, but the one that stands out is the hot dog boat that University of Colorado Boulder athletic director Rick George gave Stewart in 2014.
“When they installed the new suites at CU, she was invited to go. They had a steamboat there and they were making hot dogs and she said, “I want one of those,” Newcomb said. “The athletic director told him he would get him one.”
The steamboat, which George gave him with the words: Lady Swan atop, is among the items up for auction.
Newcomb said the Stewarts’ love for the University of Colorado at Boulder runs deep. Bill was sitting in the press box, covering the radio station’s games. Stewart had reserved seats at the 50-yard line, where she was often with friends. Through the foundation, the couple provided nearly $ 6 million in support to the university, Newcomb said.
A mini football helmet and other forms of CU Boulder memorabilia are among the items in the auction.
Stewart was also a member of the Red Hat Society, a social organization, and also loved the Kentucky Derby. The two gave her the opportunity to launch her extensive collection of hats, many of which were made by designer Cynthia Lee.
“Lila on hats, I don’t think I’ve worn them twice,” Newcomb said. “She had so many.”
While about 70 of the hats are still in the running, a number have been gifted to members of the Red Hat Society, Pratt said.
Other items offered for sale in the 22-page long online auction are Jimmy Choo-branded sparkly tennis shoes; Drexel Chinoiserie bar cabinet on a gilded iron base; an assortment of jewelry, including an 18-karat Charles Garnier swan ring, pearl adornments, as well as records, fur coats, hats, figurines, tea sets and a silk wedding kimono hanging on the wall near of the staircase which is adorned with tiny cranes in the fabric pattern. Those interested in supporting the auction can access it online at pacificauction.com.
Stewart loved swans, jewelry, and custom hats, but most of all she loved her community of Longmont and greater Boulder County.
“She was and continues to be a big fan of charities, which is pretty cool,” Pratt said. “It’s sad in a way that there is no family to leave the (items) to, but again, their legacy really continues. The people who run the foundation really have Lila’s heart in what they do.