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A Whopper of a Day for 'Greatest' Granddad

Family: Honoring 105-year-old Turner Stewart on Father's Day were 155 of his 254 offspring. 'I feel fine in my soul,' he says.

June 22, 1998|ESTHER SCHRADER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — So you were feeling pretty special this Father's Day, surrounded by your, two, three kids?

Consider Turner Stewart.

He's 105. He had 12 children. When you add in the kids, the grandkids, the great-grandkids, the great-great-grandkids, the great-great-great-grandkids, the great-great-great-great-grandkids and the great-great-great-great- great-granddaughter born in May, the total is an astounding 254.

On a hot Santa Ana Sunday, 155 were at this side, celebrating Father's Day.

"I feel just fine," said Stewart, pulling himself along with the help of a walker. "I feel fine in my soul."

Stewart is not saying much more these days. When you're 105, he confided softly to one of his sons, you don't have to.

Besides, the former field hand from Jefferson, Texas, who moved to Santa Ana and became a construction worker in 1958, has enough admiring offspring to tell his stories for him.

There's the one about his handshake: "Remember his grip? I mean, even when he was 99 years old, he would grab your hand, hold on so tight, he'd have you screaming on the floor," said great-grandson Mark Barnes, 32.

There's the one about his faith: "I was over at his house two weeks ago, and he looked at me and started to sing," said grandson Johnny Collins, 37. "He sang a spiritual, 'Shine on Me,' and he sang it strong. At the age of 105, here this man is, still praising God."

And there's the one about his outlook on life: "He instilled the standards in us to get out there and work, work hard, don't complain, provide for your family," said grandchild Charles Stewart, Jr., 35, an auto mechanic in Santa Ana. "He didn't take excuses from any of us."

All of which may explain why, among the scores of relatives gathered around Stewart on Father's Day, you would be hard pressed to find anything but lives well lived.

At the modest house of one of Stewart's sons were two sheriff's deputies, one from Los Angeles County and one from Orange County, six cosmetologists, a law student and a college football player. There were honor roll scholars, cheerleaders and the vice president of the California Institute of Performing Arts in Santa Clarita.

In the driveway, a group of cousins regaled a visitor with facts. Turner Stewart was born in 1893, they said proudly. When he was 26, he married his 16-year-old bride, Mattie Mae, who died in 1981, 22 years after she started the First Mission Baptist Church in the couple's Santa Ana garage.

Meanwhile, it had been left to granddaughter Christine Stewart Young, 41, to do the calling, the baking, the cooking and the setting up it took to get this army of a family together.

She said: "I do this to show the little ones, this is 105 years. This is where we started. This is who we are and this is why we're here.

"I tell them, if we can share one day together with him, and make him smile and sing for us, that's what it's all about," she said.

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