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by Maureen Chaisson-Stewart

July 14, 2002

Nurturing the earth and her swim friends

Rose Steward never took her friends for granted. If you did any kindness for Rose, she was always so grateful and quick to acknowledge it. Within a day or two, or even sometimes the very next day, a thank you note from Rose would arrive in the mail. Following her good example, this is an open thank you note to Rose.

Rose and I share many things in common besides our love of outdoor sports. We are both Air Force veterans (although my service stateside at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson during the Vietnam era was insignificant compared to her service as a member of the first corps of Army/Air Force flight nurses who evacuated the wounded from the Pacific theater during WWII). We are both nurses. We are both first generation Italians, although Rose is 100% Italian while I am only 50% Italian. (Not many people know that Rose's first language was Italian.) We share our Catholic faith and love of the Creator of all. Finally, like most Italians, we have a love of the land and its fruits, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. (Rose grew up on a working ranch in Northern California and so she could appreciate my reports of the current garden chores and our seasonal harvests from our large vegetable garden and fruit trees.) So, now, in speaking to Rose and to you, I would like to use the language and images that gardeners understand.

1. You planted the seeds. I first met Rose on the deck at Mona Plumber pool in 1981. I spotted her just before she jumped into the pool to practice. At that time, she was the age that I am now. I was so impressed with her youthful figure and vigor for a woman her age. Later, in the locker room, we talked and found out that we were both nurses. It was in that conversation that she planted her seed in me, as she has in so many other people through the years, for an interest in Masters swimming. The swimming seed she planted in me took 13 years to germinate because it was not until 1994 that I finally caught up with Rose and joined Sun Devil Masters swim team.

She has been the greatest of all recruiters for Arizona USMS since it began in Arizona in 1970 right up until the end. In fact, on the Wednesday afternoon before the day of her stroke, Rose spoke with great excitement in our telephone conversation about her efforts to form an over-80 swim team at Classic Residence where she lived. "We will even have our own tee-shirts and hats and our name will be The Classics", she said. Thank you, Rose for all the seeds you planted in us, for showing me and others the way into a lifetime sport and for being such an enthusiastic role model.

2. You nurture your plants after their heads finally emerge from the soil. In 1997, once again in the locker room at Mona Plumber, I asked Rose if she would teach me about triathlons and be my mentor. In my age group women don't know about triathlons let alone participate in them but Rose showed me that a sport that most people associate with the young and vigorous can also be enjoyed by seniors. In fact, I don't think that Rose every believed that age was a good reason for eliminating dreams in your life. In any case, Rose accepted the role of mentor and took it seriously. In fact, she had great expectations of me as she did of herself. When I ran two miles in the morning and saw it as an accomplishment, she ran six miles every morning well into her last year. Sometimes she would even scold me and say, "You're stronger than you think!" and I believe that she would say that to each of you too. "You are stronger than you think". Thank you Rose for helping us to grow, for pushing the envelope on the possible and for breaking psychological barriers that hold us in check from reaching our full potential.

3. You allow your plants to be stressed to stimulate their growth. Rose never hovered over her children, whether they are her adopted children (Tom and Joan) or her athletic children. She gave us plenty of space to be ourselves, to make mistakes and to set our own goals in life. Rose, thank you for supporting me even when I disappointed you by not showing up at a 5K or not entering enough events at a swim meet to win points for the team as you did. Thank you for always being ready to listen and to support the goals of those you loved and share in the excitement of their accomplishments.

4. You appreciate well that adverse conditions produce hardy plants. Rose was not afraid of the difficult things in life. Witness her valor in facing two mastectomies, gradual loss of her sight from macular degeneration, numerous spills off her bike and falls on the road while running. When she fell off her bike twice while we were out riding, fell on the trail on South Mountain when we were hiking and blood poured out all over herself and the ground (because she was on the anti-coagulant medication, Coumadin) and we had to lay a three inch flap of her skin back onto her calf because it had it slipped off in a layer like the skin on a ripe peach leaving raw flesh exposed, I would say, "Rose, I am not that kind of a nurse! I hate blood and trauma. I am a psychiatric nurse. We need to carry you out or call an ambulance." Her response was to cover the wound with a handkerchief, ride or walk back to the starting point and make an appointment to see the doctor a few days later. She always healed and she always got up again to get on with life.

Once I asked Rose, "How is it that you are able to cope so well with life's adversities?" Her answer was this. "Maureen, when you have loaded a wounded soldier from the battlefield onto a stretcher and that soldier is only a head and a torso with all four limbs blown off, anything in life is easy after that!"

There is a weed that grew this year in our garden. It was ugly but it was meant to withstand adversity. It was full of stickers, burrs and every stem is lined with sharp needles. It is called a buffalo burr. Rose knew adversity from an early age, losing her mother when she was only 13 years old and, as the oldest girl in a family of six children, carrying the responsibility of parenting her younger siblings. Faced with adversity Rose grew hardy but not mean like the buffalo burr. Instead, because of her faith in God and acceptance of God's will, she became ever more loving and ever more grateful for all the good and beautiful in life. Thank you Rose for showing us how to accept loss and suffering and, with the grace of God, turn bad into good.

5. Water and feed your plants regularly. Rose loved to take her friends to lunch—or breakfast—or supper. She may not have liked to cook but she liked to celebrate life sharing a good meal with those she loved. How fitting that it was during a lunch with some of her lady friends at the Classic Residence that she had her stroke. What a great way to begin the final chapter of one's life, doing something you love with people you care about.

I cherish memories of many breakfasts after a 5K road race, lunches after a swim meet or triathlon, picnic beside the highway in Florence when we were on our way to Tucson. She loved to try new restaurants and new items on the menu.

Thank you, Rose, for nurturing us with your love as much as with food.

6. Talk to your plants. Rose was a great communicator. She loved to talk to her friends and her children and hear about what was going on in their lives. She made a point of remembering birthdays with a card or with a phone call or with a date for lunch. If I ever wanted to know the birthday of someone on the team I would call Rose. After she moved to Classic Residence from Tempe, I did not see her very often but we would talk on the phone almost every week. Even though she had stopped going to swim team practices, she always wanted to hear news about the team.

Thank you, Rose, for being such a good listener and for your social self and for your sharing of yourself with us.

7. Enjoy the fruits of your labor in the garden. If you have seen Rose running in a 5K, a 10K or a triathlon you have seen her with a big, smile on her face the entire route. She loved to compete and enjoy the success resulting from her daily training efforts. She freely talked about her wins, not to brag, but always to encourage others. I remember when she lived in Tempe, she would display her latest trophy or medal or ribbon on the windowsill beside her front door. I once asked her about this and she explained that her windowsill was like a display case for the neighbors in the apartment complex who always wanted to know about her latest athletic accomplishments.

Thank you, Rose, for your example of gratitude for the gift from God of good health and pleasure you took in all the opportunities and possibilities that life offers.

8. Love your plants and they will reward you a hundred-fold. Rose loved her children and she loved athletes. She especially loved and admired those who strove to do their very best with the gifts that God gave them. At the time of her 80th birthday celebration, Rose said, "I do not measure wealth or success with material possessions. I measure it with friends."

Rose, the friends who are here to honor you tonight are a witness to your wealth.

Finally, I want to promise you, Rose, that when I run or swim or bike you will be on my mind with inspirational, positive thoughts. You will be on my lips with a prayer for your eternal salvation. You will be in my heart with love and gratitude for being my friend and mentor in sports. I love you, Rose. Now, be in peace and enjoy the imperishable crown.