Friends, family, co-workers and well-wishers stopped by the Town Craft Building Friday to help celebrate the retirement of Jeff Stewart, who turned off the proverbial faucet after 35 years of service with the Perry Water Works.
Aside from a brief stretch of living in Colorado shortly after he and wife Karen (Wesely) were married in 1978, Stewart has never lived anywhere but Perry, and he said he has no regrets.
“The people in Perry have been just great to work with and to live with,” he said. “I always enjoyed visiting with people and was happy to raise my kids here. I cannot imagine wanting to live anywhere else.”
Daughter Mindy (Kyle) Baxter lives in town, with daughter Mandy in Des Moines, so all his family is near, including the grandchildren he admits to “spoiling whenever I can.”
Stewart has a place in Perry High School history as well, as he was a fifth-place finisher at the 1974 state wrestling tournament for the Bluejays.
He worked construction for some time, but when the crew decided to leave for Miami he opted not to join them. About that time he heard from Austin Ballantine there was an opening at the Perry Water Works, which Ballantine urged him to apply for.
Stewart got the spot in 1981 and for three years served a distribution assistant under his friend. When Ballantine moved into plant operations in 1984, Stewart was promoted to distribution foreman and has been there since. Ballantine retired in 2013.
“I can’t believe it has been 35 years,” Stewart said Friday. “There were 11 guys when I started and now there are eight. There have been some changes and the technology has gotten better, but 35 years sounds a lot longer than it feels.”
Stewart said he would miss interacting with the community and would miss working with “some really great people.”
He praised Water Works Superintendent Hank Schmidt as “a peach of a guy to work with … you could not ask for better” and said he felt the city would be left in good hands because “all these guys care about what they do and are good at doing it.”