Longtime Butler County veterans board member steps down on record note

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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The Butler County vet board says goodbye to long time member Lowell Stewart.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Lowell Stewart has been a Butler County veterans service commissioner for 22 years, and his final meeting follows a record-breaking month for the number of veterans served by the commission.

The agency reported assisting 614 veterans in November. Stewart said that made for an awesome send off for him.

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“It feels real good, it’s nice to see (the numbers) up there,” he said. “And I think these guys will keep it there.”

The board is responsible for helping the estimated 27,000 veterans living in Butler County.

Stewart was an Airman First Class who served at a number of Air Force installations and came home to work at Champion Paper for 30 years.

While the board is not affiliated with the Veterans Administration — it is an arm of county government — it offers a plethora of services like doling out emergency cash, helping veterans navigate the Veterans Administration system, arranging and paying for transportation to medical appointments, and finding local services for everything from legal issues to marriage counseling.

Stewart’s tenure on the board hasn’t always been easy, there was a lot of strife several years ago when meetings that now take about an hour, then took nearly all day.

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The angst was over former executive director Curt McPherson, who was eventually forced to resign amid allegations of racial slurs, bullying and a lawsuit by a former employee. Stewart and former commissioners Tom Stamper and Ken Smith were staunch McPherson supporters. Former commissioners Dan Biondo and Bob Perry wanted him out.

“We had a rough time there for a while,” Stewart told the Journal-News. “We had some problems then, some people came on the board and wanted to change everything. I’m not sure what they wanted to do, but they wanted to change something I guess. You know the old saying different folks, different strokes.”

As new members have replaced the old and Executive Director Caroline Bier joined the board, Stewart said things have changed for the better. He has changed his position on several key issues, including advertising, wage study and travel policy, and was one of the first to call for peace on the once dysfunctional board.

“In the last couple years he’s tried to move forward,” Commissioner Tom Jeffers said. “I think Lowell wanted to have everything go good and help the veterans and make sure we weren’t into the bickering mode as it was when I got in. He welcomed me with open arms and helped me get through the first year. I think Lowell has been a very positive influence.”

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The number of veterans helped during the tumultuous years of 2013 and ‘14 averaged in the low 400s and the three-man voting block was firmly against advertising to get the word out about the agency. Stewart came around gradually and agreed to the marketing plan. Smith, who retired last year remained resolutely against the ad buys.

As Bier presented Stewart with a plaque at his final meeting this week Board President Chuck Weber thanked him for his service.

“Lowell, you’re a champ, we appreciate it, we’re going to miss you,” Weber said.

Butler County Common Pleas Judge Noah Powers has appointed former Master Sergeant Bruce Jones to replace Stewart, his first meeting will be Jan. 17.

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