The soft-spoken boy later mustered up the courage to walk the young lady home — her brother trailing a respectable distance behind — sparking an eight-year courtship and love affair that lasted more than 83 years.
Throughout their almost 75-year marriage, Stewart and his wife, Gladys, served as quiet cornerstones of the St. Louis community, extending a helping hand in countless, uncelebrated ways to family, friends and strangers alike.
Stewart died about three years ago at 99, about a year after his wife's passing at 96, but their tireless philanthropy lives on.
“They were so instrumental in the community,” longtime friend Tracy Lisner, 64, of Tyler said. “You can't imagine how many people they helped.”
City leaders plan to celebrate the Stewarts and their love of community Friday with a special ceremony highlighting just one of the gifts they left behind — land for a new city park.
The occasion begins at 10 a.m. at 2713 Frankston Highway, the longtime home they built from scratch as newlyweds and also gifted to the city.
The modest couple had no children,but understood the need for safe, neighborhood parks, Stephanie Rollings, Tyler Parks and Recreation Director, said Wednesday.
“We are so excited,” she said. “It (property) was an original part of the St. Louis Community.”
Efforts are under way to create a master plan for the 9-acre property that might one day feature amenities such as a playground and possibly walking trails, Ms. Rollings said.
By comparison, Bergfeld Park, 1510 S. College Avenue, is 8.32 acres.
The city also plans to seek a historical marker for the couple's former home and then help maintain the property for future generations to enjoy.
Development opportunities within the park — the city's 27th recreational site — are to be funded largely with half-cent sales tax revenue, private donations and community partnerships, officials said.
“Because there's such a sense of community in that area, we felt like there will be some support,” Ms. Rollings said.
Lisner was just a baby in the 1950s when his family purchased Maxine's and became fast friends with the Stewarts.
“They became very close family members,” he said. “They spent many Jewish holidays around our table … they were like a second set of parents to me.”
The couple, longtime members of Bethlehem Baptist Church, worked hard and saved their money, freely sharing with people in need.
Friends said the Stewarts also believed every child deserved an opportunity to have an education, so they helped create the Gladys and TB Stewart Scholarship fund, given by the East Texas Communities Foundation.
The couple is credited with helping break new ground in their neighborhood, compelling the city to help bring electricity, water and phone to the St. Louis community.
Coincidently, the couple was the first in their area to have a phone and didn't mind sharing so others could make or receive calls, often flagging down passersby to relay a message, Lisner said.
It was the couple's last wish that city officials use their gift to benefit others, said Hershel L. Clement, 81, of Tyler, a close friend of Stewart's for more than 50 years.
“We talked about it quite a bit,” Clement said. “He wanted it to be used for the community … this is really what he wanted.”
Clement said there are hopes the house can be transformed into a type of museum showcasing the area's history, or perhaps a place to hold special community gatherings.
“The last 10 years, we did a lot of fishing together,” Clement said. “That's when we really got to know each other. They (Stewarts) were really concerned about people and the community. They always gave whatever they had and shared to help others.”
He said the couple had impeccable character that served as a source of inspiration to him and others, recalling an instance in which Mrs. Stewart advised the men to use prayer to resolve a problem.
“She told us to let the Lord work it out,” Clement said. “It was resolved. It (prayer) seemed like it brought us closer together … I really cherished the friendship and companionship.”