Royal treatment for king and queen of Fallfest

Kevin and Karen Stewart weren't voted the homecoming king and queen during their high school years. But they'll be wearing a crown and tiara this week.

Last month, the Stewarts were chosen the King and Queen of the annual Westminster Fallfest, which takes place this year Thursday through Sunday, Sept. 22-25 in the downtown area.

The Stewarts' long record of service to the Westminster community was the integral factor in earning the award.

"I was reading some of the bios of the nominees from organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and the Rape Crisis Center, and I didn't expect (to be nominated)," said Karen. "There are so many great people out there that are helping other organizations, and I was pleasantly surprised."

It's a fitting tribute to a couple that has made Westminster their home during their 17-year marriage.

Several local charitable organizations nominated community activists for the King and Queen honor. Voters cast their ballots online, at the Westminster Department of Recreation beginning July 15 and during the Fallfest Bon Appetit event at Paradiso's Ristorante Aug. 15.

Each vote required a $1 donation, with all of the proceeds benefiting the charity that nominated the winning couple.

The Stewarts were nominated by Access Carroll, a nonprofit that offers free health care to uninsured, low-income county residents. Access Carroll will receive more than $1,700 from the voting.

The couple learned that they were the winners at the Paradiso event in mid-August.

The coronation comes with a few responsibilities. The King and Queen will be in the Fallfest Parade Thursday, Sept. 22 and make several presentations during the week.

"We will be available wherever we need to be," said Karen, who lives on a sprawling farm with her husband and three children. "We're doing a farm theme and Access Carroll will have pets there."

The Stewarts' relationship with Access Carroll began several years ago. Kevin, who owns and operates Stewart Homes in Westminster, was asked by a local pediatrician — and current Westminster Common Council member — to help with a building project.

"A good friend of ours, Dr. Robert Wick, was the founder of Access Carroll and asked Kevin to be the general contractor for the organization," Karen said. "That was really the start of Kevin's community involvement.

"Along with the subcontracting work, he did the whole build-out about six years ago," she said. "He's the kind of guy who will do anything for anybody."

Hometown touch

Kevin is a lifelong resident of the county seat and graduated from Westminster High in 1988. He still lives in the house where he was raised.

"I love Westminster," he said. "It's the kind of town where you drive down the road and you're constantly waving to people you know."

Karen grew up in Elliott City, and graduated from Mt. Hebron High School and the University of Maryland. She didn't know much about Carroll County until the Stewarts were married in 1994, but was pleasantly surprised when she came to Westminster.

"I thought it was country, that there was nothing out here," she said. "And now, I would never leave."

The Stewarts have become immersed in their community, with Kevin's work on the building of Access Carroll's facility serving as a catalyst for their involvement.

"Dr. Wick needed a hand and he asked for help," Kevin said of his role at Access Carroll. "I tried to take some of the pressure off of him, because he was working as the head of pediatrics at Carroll Hospital and then coming there. A lot of people donated their time, and we worked on the build-out for about three months."

Kevin didn't stop there. He became involved with the Gamber-Smallwood Lacrosse program, and is now the director of the organization. He's a Gamber-Smallwood coach during the spring and winter seasons, and also guides a summer team in the Central Maryland Lacrosse League.

A member of the Westminster Elks, Kevin also serves as an official for USA and YMCA competitive swimming.

Karen was the vice president of Airport Retail Consulting for 13 years. In 2005, she left that business to work for Stewart Homes. Her job change also allowed Karen to stay at home with the Stewarts' three young children.

A kinesiology major at Maryland, she is currently enrolled in the physical therapy assistant program at Carroll Community College and expects to receive her license in January 2013.

Access to service

But Karen's commitment to educationhasn't deterred her from volunteering in her community. She's heavily involved with Access Carroll, serving as the organization's treasurer and on its Board of Directors.

"It's probably the best thing I've ever done," she said of her work with the nonprofit. "Access Carroll is absolutely a worthy cause."

Karen, who also directs the concession operation at the Westminster Riding Club, is a past committee member for the WISH Foundation and Taste of Carroll.

"We have such a great group of friends from all different places in the community," said Karen. "The Riding Club is an especially fun place to be."

Kevin admires that his wife has been able to participate in so many activities while going back to college.

"Karen worked in retail for so many years," Kevin said. "Then, she worked with me, and finally had a passion to go back and do what she wanted to do 20 years ago in the physical therapy world."

While the Stewarts remain the picture of community involvement, they are also very supportive of their three children.

Their oldest, Kelsey, is a sophomore at Westminster High School and is a competitive gymnast. Patrick is in the sixth grade at Westminster West Middle and Collin is in his final year at Friendship Valley Elementary. Both boys play football and lacrosse.

"Every sport that our kids play, we are there," Karen said. "You get completely immersed in whatever they're doing. I think our kids appreciate that we're there with them."

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