This week we highlight a conversation with local philanthropist Marlene Stewart and her son, James Stewart.
The health of a community can be measured by several factors: Access to quality health care, a high-functioning education system, robust civic engagement and a thriving music and fine arts scene. Returning to El Paso in 1970 to open El Paso Disposal, Marlene and the late J.O. Stewart wanted their community to thrive. Over the next 40 years, they set about composing a life of giving back.
Music initially drew the couple together. They met when J.O. heard Marlene singing in a church choir. Personal enjoyment of music and the fine arts inspired them to begin their philanthropic journey in El Paso.
“I enjoy seeing the community at a concert. To see El Paso experience incredible music and knowing the community has been enriched is a blessing,” said Marlene of her work with local music and art organizations. “I love the community.”
When their roots in El Paso matured, the Stewarts were able to further cultivate their philanthropic projects. J.O. told his wife, “Marlene, when we are successful, we need to think about giving back to the community, because if we’re here and we’re making our money here, then we need to do something for the good.”
In 1980, J.O. opened a recording studio in South El Paso. Slowly, he acquired surrounding plots of land for his core business ventures.
“The property was purchased with the plan of moving all of El Paso Disposal operations into one large property instead of two separate facilities,” said James Stewart, Marlene and J.O.’s only son. “Later, Dad was approached about donating the land for a potential medical school. We realized that in order for the medical school to get started, the state and Texas Tech needed a catalyst. Mom and dad felt like donating the land was the best option for El Paso to grow as a community. That’s when the decision was made to donate to the future medical school.”
In 2001, the Stewarts orchestrated the donation of 10.7 acres of land to Texas Tech, where the TTUHSC El Paso campus would be built. With their donation for the advancement of future health care professionals, the family became not only leading local philanthropists but Foster Champions.
“J.O. was a visionary type of person, so this kind of thing was exciting for him,” said Marlene. “Being a part of the plan, that’s what he loved doing. I know for him it was a great thing.”
Echoing his mother’s statement, James said, “My dad knew it was essential for the community to be behind the medical school. It’s a first-class facility, which we didn’t have. It has impacted our health care community for generations.”
For the Stewarts, their donation to help establish the Foster School of Medicine is a gift to El Paso that continues to give.