By CARL GREEN
Collinsville, IL – It may have been Dale Stewart’s last meeting as executive-secretary treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building & Construction Trades Council, but it was one that will be remembered for a long time to come.
Labor leaders and supporters gave Stewart a rousing sendoff in his final meeting recently, and elected longtime Council President Totsie Bailey, business manager for Steamfitters Local 439, to replace him.
Since he was elected to the job in 2006, Stewart, 67, has represented the region’s trades unions in talks with the construction industry and in public forums with government officials. He has been a force of stability, strength and trust in an ever-changing environment of good years, bad years, changing policies and changing politics.
Stewart announced at the April meeting that he would retire, saying it was time to turn the responsibility over to someone else and return to a more private life.
ELECTION OF OFFICERS
At the meeting May 10, Stewart and Bailey dispensed with the current issues in about 15 minutes. Part of that was the election of new officers.
Glyn Rampage, longtime president of the Southwestern Illinois Laborers District Council, proposed the new slate – Bailey to replace Stewart, Operating Engineers Local 520’s Business Manager Ron Kempe to replace Bailey as president; and Laborers Local 459’s Business Manager Eric Holler as the new vice president.
The three were elected by acclamation.
HIGH PRAISE FOR STEWART
A large group of guests, including many public officials, attended the luncheon that followed, including Illinois Senator Bill Haine (D-Alton), a strong Labor supporter who is not running for re-election because of medical issues and has been making few public appearances of late. He described how he and Stewart have been friends and allies for many years, and he credited Stewart for the fact that the Phillips 66 Wood River Refinery has the highest proportion of union labor of any oil refinery in the Midwest, and also for playing a large role in keeping open the U.S. Steel plant in Granite City.
“I’ll tell you what – a smarter man, business or Labor, I’ve never met other than Dale Stewart,” Haine said. “He’s totally dedicated and without any personal interests. I appreciate that my career happened to dovetail with his.”
Ramage praised Stewart for his representation recalling some opposition when Stewart became the Council executive in 2006.
“You did a great job, and I mean representing everybody,” Ramage said. “And from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, brother.”
Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber, a strong Labor supporter and recent candidate for governor, said he will miss Stewart – every day.
“When Dale calls, there’s one word I can never say, and that’s ‘no,’” Daiber said. “Dale has served this region in a way that I ‘ve never seen anybody else serve it. He is about bringing everybody together for the good of everybody, and about making it really happen.
“When you look around at Southwestern Illinois and you look at a lot of the accomplishments that have been done, one man, Dale Stewart, stands out among contractors, Labor leaders and politicians, as the guy who brought it together and made things happen for the good of working people and in their best interests.”
ALWAYS STRIVING TO DO BETTER
Before lunch was served, amid stories and much laughter, Stewart expressed his appreciation for the people who came before him, among them, his predecessor, longtime Council executive Dean Turner.
Stewart said Turner’s example helped him understand what to do.
“I always wanted to do the job better than Dean Turner, because Dean did such a great job,” Stewart said. “He was a true friend and mentor. You talk about a great guy who wanted to make things right for southwestern Illinois, Dean Turner was the guy. I didn’t feel like I could fill his shoes, but I worked as hard as I could at it.”
“We’d have our arguments and disagreements, but at the end of the day, if somebody needed help, everybody always stepped up to help them out. And that always stuck in my mind,” Stewart said.
“We’ve still got a lot of great things to do here, we’ve got a great organization, we’ve got a lot of great people here, we’ve got great elected officials to help us when we need it, and they’ve always stepped up,” he added.
“I can’t say ‘Thank you’ enough. I’ve always felt that any time I’ve talked to politicians or business persons, they’d respect us because they knew we’d do our best and that whatever we told them we were going to do, we’d deliver on it.”