Evanson: Banks' Stewart Monroe won't be forgotten
Life's not fair. Nor is it predictable.
The community of Banks, along with myself, found that out the hard way this past week when beloved community member, family man and photographer Stewart Monroe unexpectedly passed away Dec. 28 at the age of 61.
I met Stewart almost six years ago on the track at Kelly Field. He introduced himself as Stewart; I, Wade; and after a few minutes chatting, I had his phone number and instructions to call him if I ever needed anything regarding Banks athletics.
I inevitably did, and he delivered every time. Be it a football, basketball, volleyball, softball or baseball game, or even a graduation or town function, if it was happening within or closely surrounding the Banks city limits, Stewart was there — and likely with his trusty camera.
He wasn't the best photographer. In fact, he'd laugh at any suggestion he was. But it wasn't the photography that made him special, but rather his willingness to capture what epitomized the city and the people who made it what it was.
I can't say I knew the man well, but I knew him well enough to know I didn't need to. He treated me like he treated everyone else: with a smile, a friendly greeting, and enthusiasm for the people he served.
After hearing of his passing, I reached out to mutual friends in the area, mostly of whom we both knew through the school. Together we lamented his passing, and like with most when they're gone, we spoke to his virtue.
Stewart was dedicated, passionate and, in many ways, selfless when it came to the community. He wasn't perfect. After all, who is? But you'd be hard-pressed to fixate on any of his flaws, speaking with those who dealt with him on a regular basis.
"Stewart captured so many great moments at Banks High School," Banks High assistant principal and athletic director Ben Buchanan said. "Whenever we called on him to take pictures, he always came through for us. Whether it was athletics, club activities, senior nights, college signings or graduations, Stewart was there. He traveled all over the state to capture our moments and we will forever be grateful. There are so many community members he impacted and he will be sorely missed."
Banks Principal Jacob Pence spoke to that impact, along with the dedication he displayed. He noted that Stewart traveled — sometimes hundreds of miles — to capture the action, and in many cases, action that wasn't always on the top of his list. While he loved football, baseball and equestrian events, you could find him at golf or cross country meets, wrestling tournaments, and even non-sporting events such as Senior Night — even if it sometimes meant missing work.
"His photography at these events left parents assured that they could sit back and enjoy watching their child and the action unfold," Pence said. "They were able to do this knowing Stewart would capture the action and memories through his pictures. He never complained and did it only for the love of the community and support of its young people."
Those "young people" were out in droves on social media in the wake of Stewart's death, all thanking the man for what he'd done for them.
I saw messages from present-day students, past students, and even past and present students of visiting teams who had stumbled into a photo or two — which, unbeknownst to Stewart, had now become a keepsake for an athlete or parent from Seaside, Astoria or even as far away as Cottage Grove.
And they all did so with such appreciation for something that at the time they probably thought little of.
"Stewart was the ultimate model community member in Banks," said Dan Herb, Banks' wrestling coach. "Most will remember him for all the pictures he took at pretty much every extracurricular activity you could think of, but he was much more than that. The old proverb, 'It takes a village to raise a child,' Stewart was a big part of that village for many. He found his niche in helping out Banks athletics, and it will be missed and not forgotten."
Stewart was an avid outdoorsman, and in recent years, he snapped a lot of pictures at equine events in the area.
Hannah Bonebrake was a friend and pupil of Stewart. She says she owed a lot to him for bringing out the best in her, both on and off the horse.
"You will be missed so much," she wrote on Facebook after Stewart's death. "Thank you for all the adventures this summer and pushing me the be the best wrangler I could, hauling me to countless races and trail rides. I will forever be grateful for you."
And ultimately that's what people like me want to communicate most to the man who is gone too soon: gratitude. He gave and asked for nothing in return, and that's what I, and so many in and around the Banks community, will remember about the man we were all lucky enough to know.
"He was always behind the camera, working quietly, and never wanted any credit or notoriety," Pence said. "He is gone too soon and left us unexpectedly. His impact and generous gifts of time and photographs will be remembered by all of us in our community for a very long time."
Truer words have never been spoken.
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