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Remembering the late Dick Stewart’s impact on Duluth hockey

Few people go through life doing what they love and impacting people in such a way that they create a legacy remembered by a whole community. If you ask around the Duluth hockey community, many would tell you Dick Stewart lived that very life.

Stewart created a legacy remembered by those lucky enough to have him touch their lives, all the while giving a passionate hockey fan base something to cheer about, literally. He was born and raised in Duluth, where his passion for hockey and belief in helping others made him a renowned public figure.

He took over his father’s locksmith store, Stewart’s Repair and Grind Shop, after World War II. Eventually, Stewart expanded it into a store specializing in bicycles and sporting equipment, specifically hockey equipment.

The store was eventually renamed Stewart’s Bikes & Sports, which is still in business today in West Duluth. This store was just the start of Stewart’s legacy, as he became well known for sponsoring youth teams as well as University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Bulldog athletics.

“He was the guy,” said Anita Stech, who first met Stewart as a customer in his store. “He was the go-to guy, like the godfather of hockey because he was just always there.”

It wasn’t only his store that made Stewart well known throughout Duluth.

Stewart had been a season ticket owner since before the UMD Bulldogs began playing in the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center (DECC), which opened in 1966, said Stewart’s daughter, Lesley Lenox. In all those years, Stewart made it a point to attend every game he possibly could, not only devoting his time, but actually losing his eyesight while attending a game while he had an aneurysm in his eye.

In his later years, Stewart became a Bulldog celebrity. The UMD student section at athletic events coined a cheer that showed their respect for the longtime Bulldog super-fan.  At each game, the student section would begin to chant “We Love Dick” repeatedly until Stewart would stand and salute the student section by waving his Bulldog windsock.

“The chant meant the world to him,” Lenox said. “He just thought that was so special.”

Lenox had been going to games with her father for as long as she can remember. One game that they attended with her sister, Susan Stewart, still stands out. Lenox wasn’t even in high school, and at the time, Stewart’s store was a supplier for Bulldog Hockey.

“During the period intermission, they announced over the loud speaker, ‘Will Dick Stewart please report to the locker room,’” Lenox said.

She remembers her dad telling her to stay in their seats and not leave. The two girls waited all intermission for their dad to return to his seat. Stewart finally made it back during the next period.

One of the Bulldog players had broken a blade, and the team asked him to fix the skate. When Stewart realized the blade was broken beyond repair and the team didn’t have any spares, he rushed off to his store, fixed the skate, and grinded down the blade to match the game wear of the other skate so that the player could skate evenly on both of his edges.

“He wouldn’t have thought anything about it,” Lenox said. “He was happy to do it.”

At a 90th birthday party for Stewart held at the Duluth Heritage Sports Center, roughly 200 friends, customers, players, coaches, and the UMD Pep Band, which was Stewart’s personal favorite, came to celebrate with Stewart and his family. Lenox was overwhelmed by the number of stories of her dad helping those who were in need of equipment when they came into the store.

“I had people coming up to me at his party and telling me stories of how they didn’t have any money but they went in to see my dad, and he just gave me a set of skates or a stick for no charge so I could play,” Lenox said.

Stewart’s store was known for sponsoring countless hockey teams and even some baseball teams for some time. Yet, Stewart didn’t think sponsoring a team was enough. He wanted every young athlete who walked through the doors of his story to have the same opportunity to play the sport he loved, even if that meant never being paid for his equipment.

When Anita Stech came to Stewart with the idea of starting a girls’ hockey program in Duluth, Stewart never hesitated to support the idea and the girls who wanted to play. Stech was relieved to hear Stewart was behind her, as many others believed the girls would just be taking ice time away from the boys’ teams.

“I went into his store after we had gotten started, and Dick looked at me and said, ‘You’re doing the right thing,’” Stech said. “He would loan out skates to girls who just wanted to try and was just so supportive of the whole thing.”

Through all of this, Stewart never set out looking for recognition. His strong religious beliefs and desire to help those around him guided him to never think twice about giving money to support a team or replacing a pair of stolen skates at no cost to the player.

Stewart died June 4, 2012, at the age of 92. In his honor, the Bulldogs men’s hockey team opened its season with a moment of silence before the puck dropped. Just after the tribute, commemorative Bulldogs windsocks poured from the rafters above the student section.

But not all the windsocks made it to the student section.

“There was one stuck up in the rafters, which we figured dad held on to up there,” Lenox said.

As the game began, the student section began chanting, “We love Dick.” Lenox and her sister, Susan, stood to acknowledge the student section for their dad.

With the Bulldogs winning 4-1 in the final period and the first victory of the season in sight, the student section began to chant one more time in memory of a great hockey fan, an innovating figure, and an even more incredible person.

“We miss Dick,” the student section chanted.

They were three simple words that had the power to move a crowd of nearly 6,000 in a way no traditional hockey cheer possibly could, and it was all for a man who changed a community in a way no traditional man could.