Honoring Molly Stewart
Rev. Brent A. Barry and Molly Stewart
Recently retired from Casa de Vida, which translates to House of Life, Molly Stewart says, “It is a joy to see the participants come to life at Casa.”
The participants truly do come to life as they enjoy music and singing, exercise, worship, memory exercises, and games each week here at NorthPark Presbyterian. However, without Molly, there might not have been a Casa.
In 2006, Molly’s dear friend, the wife of a former interim pastor at NorthPark, mentioned that she would like to find a day program for her husband who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Finding none in the area, Molly started doing research.
That research led her to a program in Austin that was working well. After obtaining important information from that group, Molly took an idea to NorthPark’s Mission Committee. The committee authorized a task force “to research the feasibility of establishing a once a week respite program for the caregivers of people with early Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.”
One member of the task force was Ann Anderson who currently serves as co-director for Casa. Of Molly, Ann says, “She was always prayerful that our needs would be met. Molly had faith in Casa. She brought many abilities to the development of Casa – determination, devotion, initiative, energy, expertise and experience. She was a vital and dedicated force behind the program.”
The Session, the governing body of the church, approved the program, and Casa de Vida started in February of 2007. Molly became the program director and later chairman of the Casa board. Her education and past professional work prepared her for these positions at Casa. She obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences from SMU and a Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies at UTD. She became an instructor at the Volunteer Center of North Texas, which is now known as Voly, was the first director of Dallas County Adult Literacy, and was associated with several other programs. Molly’s community involvement is extensive.
Married for 63 years, Molly and her husband Robb have three children: Abigail Hamilton, Robb Stewart and his wife, Kathy, Duff Stewart and wife, Liz. Additionally, they have seven grandchildren. Molly enjoys gardening, and she and Robb are longtime members of NorthPark Presbyterian Church where both have served as elders. A native of the Republic of Panama, Molly returned there many times with Robb and the children to visit extended family.
What will Molly do now that she has retired from Casa? She was recently elected to the Advisory Board of Presbyterian Village North (PVN) where she and Robb live and is the first woman to hold this position. Also, she chairs the PVN Social Activities Committee.
Molly says she will miss her time with Casa. She was asked for her best memories of the program and replied, “The people! I admire Ann Anderson for speaking up to say we needed this program and Phil Daily for agreeing. I remember those early participants fondly.”
There were sad times, too. Molly and the volunteers did not realize how sad it would make them to lose participants, some to death. Grief training, a memorial service, and a support group for the caregivers followed. Reverend Brent Barry, lead pastor of NorthPark Presbyterian says of Molly, “She has great sensibilities working with volunteers.”
Indeed, Molly will miss Casa, and Casa will miss Molly. Her tenacity, loving and caring attitude toward the participants and the volunteers, and her faith in God are admirable traits. Sally Brown, former associate pastor at NorthPark, says that Casa has shared its story with other churches looking to start a similar program. “It is with wonder and amazement that I realize how these programs can make a difference.” Of Molly, Sally notes, “She had a vision and was constantly engaged in that vision. She had a lot of energy.” Praise be to God for Molly and her vision!
To learn more about Casa de Vida, or the grief training and caregivers support group, please contact Ellen Mata, NorthPark's Director of Mission and Older Adult Programs.
Blog author, Lee Ogé, is a NorthPark member who volunteers weekly as a Casa de Vida faith companion and serves lunch regularly at The Bridge Homeless Shelter in downtown Dallas. Prior to moving to Texas with her husband, David, Lee was a teacher and librarian in Slidell, Louisiana.