An homage to one of Fremont’s favorite sons was unveiled during the 2023 Daffodil Festival.
In a fitting tribute to the late Keith Stewart, who had chaired the event for four decades before his passing in 2021, the committee announced the newest addition during a ceremony at Daffodil Memorial Park.
Stewart, often called “Mr. Fremont” by those familiar with his love and support of his community, ran the Fremont Pharmacy with his brother, Hank.
He had also been a Scoutmaster, member of Fremont’s Rotary Club and Jaycees, lay leader at Fremont United Methodist Church, and served for 30 years on the board of trustees at Wayne Community College.
But he was equally known for his quick wit, memorable laugh and willingness to roll up his sleeves and support a worthy cause.
Like the annual street fair in downtown Fremont, synonymous with ushering in spring. With the exception of two years it was canceled during the pandemic, the March 25 festival attracted locals and faithful crowds drawn to the area to enjoy food, games, vendors and music of the Embers.
“Keith Stewart loved Fremont, and he gave a lot of himself to the town,” said his wife, Lynda Stewart.
The couple had dated since they were 16 years old. They had made the conscious decision to move back to the town to raise their family, she said.
In memory of Stewart, the committee had added the Daffodil Dash in his name last year, said chairperson Brenda Paul.
“We had entertained that idea several years in connection with the Daffodil Festival before Keith died,” Lynda Stewart said. “(Daughter) Paige and (son) Jay and (his wife) Bethany had become runners. They all took different parts of the Dash.
“We have been blessed with lots of good sponsors for the past few years. So after the first (Dash) we wanted to take some of the proceeds and do something for the town because Keith loved this community.”
This year, as part of the festivities, another dedication was made, Paul said.
“When we lost Keith we knew we wanted to do something in honor of him in our park,” she said. “We told his family, we needed something but it needs to be fun.
“So his family came up with the whirligig.”
Neighboring Wilson has the Whirligig Park, so it was easy enough to play off the concept. Plus Paige Stewart Hunter lives there and was able to orchestrate the effort, Paul said.
“The whirligig ended up being just the perfect thing,” Lynda Stewart said.
Along with the design for the sign, artisan Joseph Justice from Wilson built the daffodil whirligig.
Flanked by the Fremont Daffodil Town logo and the bright yellow daffodil whirligig, is a circular silhouette depicting Keith Stewart waterskiing.
Keith Stewart was a sailor, his wife said — enjoying the freedom the wind gave him on the boat when he cut the motors off. Justice even used a photo of him for the handcrafted sign.
“He loved waterskiing with his yellow jacket,” Paul said. “I know he loves what we did. It was something fun.”
“In the end, we wanted people to ride by and say, ‘Hey, that’s fun. Fremont must be a fun little town,’ ” Lynda Stewart said.
Funding for the project came from proceeds of the first Daffodil Dash, Paul said.
“Part of it went to pay for that, other money will go back to support some local nonprofits that Keith was a part of,” she said.
The morning of this year’s festival may have started off like every other year, as vendors set up their wares, organizers double-checked their lists and made sure everything was in working order, and participants lined up to perform on stage. But there was one unexpected twist that seemed almost reminiscent of all those years when Stewart zipped through town lending a hand.
“We laughed on Daffodil Day,” Paul said, recalling the moment the unveiling began. “The wind kicked up during the ceremony.
“Someone said, ‘It’s just like Keith, trying to show off that day.’ ”
Mrs. Stewart expressed the family’s appreciation for the recognition of its patriarch.
“If you’re going to honor somebody, what better place than the place where he grew up,” she said. “It’s an honor to give something back to the town.
“We think this is the best way to honor Keith. The family has received so much love and so much support.”
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