SIOUX CITY | When she and her two sisters were growing up in a Chicago suburb, Suzan Stewart absorbed some words of advice from her mother – get involved in the PTA.
In her hometown of Des Plaines, Ill., Stewart’s mother, Laurel Miller, stayed home to raise her family while her husband, Ernest, was on the road much of the year selling fats and oils.
“She hated being a housewife. The best time for her was when she joined the PTA in Des Plaines. It really changed her life,” Stewart said.
Stewart tried to follow in her mother’s footsteps in Sioux City, only to find she could not. In the late 1980s, Clark Elementary School’s PTA met only during the day. Working parents need not apply.
That didn’t sit well with Stewart, an attorney for the local utility company, Iowa Public Service Co. That prompted her to join a few school district committees, and that eventually led to an increasing number of volunteer efforts. Back to those in a moment.
Stewart attended the University of Iowa, where she obtained her undergraduate degree and earned a master’s degree in library science. She met and married Bob Stewart, who was attending medical school. After receiving her master's degree, she couldn’t find a librarian's post because the university wouldn’t hire student wives. She found a job as a research assistant for the Iowa Geological Survey to determine how Iowa was using energy. While her husband was doing his three-year residency in Iowa City, she obtained her law degree.
Bob Stewart accepted a position as a pulmonary specialist with Dr. Craig Brainbridge in Sioux City. Suzan Stewart's work in the energy field led to employment for her as an attorney at IPS. She’s been working for IPS, now MidAmerican Energy Co., ever since. Husband and wife started their jobs July 1, 1980. They have four children: Bobby, 30, Mark, 28, Katie, 27, and Betsy, 20.
While working as a research assistant, Stewart discovered that many recommendations on public policy issues came from Iowans serving on state boards. And, she discovered, she enjoyed being in the public policy arena, where citizens could make a difference.
Gov. Robert Ray asked her to serve on the Iowa Energy Policy Committee, which led to membership on the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Highway Commission and service on the state dentistry board.
This past summer Gov. Terry Branstad named Stewart to the newly created Iowa Public Information Board, which will handle public records complaints. The goal is to provide better access to public records and educate the public.
Her love of books led to two terms on the city’s Library Board of Trustees. She has served on school district committees and other city committees and is a member of the Taxpayers Research Council, a nonprofit watchdog group. She’s an elder at First Presbyterian Church.
As chairman of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission, she said, "It’s been fun to learn about all the things happening around the city – from new schools to various development projects.”
Now 61, Stewart still enjoys policy debates but also makes time for other cherished activities. In her spare time she knits, reads books and is preparing to bicycle the first three days of RABGRAI this summer with Bob.
And although her parents have died, Stewart still reflects on lessons her mother taught by example. After her PTA days, Laurel Miller obtained a teaching degree and then a degree in accounting, proving it is never too late to learn.