Jeanne Stewart, Sports Garden founder and girls sports pioneer, dies at 78 – Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Jeanne Stewart, a pioneer in girls high school sports in the Rochester area, founder of the Rochester Sports Garden and aunt to 41, died July 11 at age 78.
Mrs. Stewart, formerly of Victor, opened the Sports Garden in 1995, turning a vacant warehouse on East Henrietta Road into one of the county’s most popular indoor sports venues. She and her husband, John, also operated Arnold Palmer Putting Course in Penfield for 25 years.
The two met at John Stewart’s Jumping Johnny Trampoline Center in Canandaigua and were married 29 years until John’s death in 1993.
Before her career in business, Mrs. Stewart was a physical education teacher and coach in Bloomfield and a stalwart advocate for equal opportunity for girls to play sports.
She was an early organizer of the Girls Athletic Association, which predated the federal Title IX legislation and the girls’ half of Section V athletics. She organized games at whatever odd times and places the boys hadn’t already claimed.
“She was very frustrated there wasn’t a lot of support for female sports, so she bought her own equipment and wouldn’t let the boys use it,” her niece, Lori Love, said. “She was the jock in the family. I don’t know a sport she didn’t play; she loved them all.”
Mrs. Stewart, who never grew past 4 feet 11-and-a-half inches tall, coached the Bloomfield girls basketball team to back-to-back Section V titles in 1976 and 1977. She also coached softball, soccer, volleyball and field hockey. She was inducted into the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016.
“Talk to any of the athletes she coached. They were more than teams; they were family,” her nephew, Michael Johnson, said. Many of those girls went on to become coaches in their own right, he said.
Mrs. Stewart was born in Victor in 1938, one of 11 siblings. Her parents both died by the time she was 12 years old, leaving the rest of the family to run the family farm.
After high school she enrolled at The College at Brockport, deciding to study physical education because, she told Johnson: “It was the only class I didn’t skip.”
Mrs. Stewart never had children of her own, so she and her husband instead parented their 41 nieces and nephews. She taught them all to ski and water-ski, and took all of them — all 41 — on at least one big vacation, to Aruba or Hawaii or Las Vegas.
“They basically adopted all their nieces and nephews,” Johnson said. “Put them through college, anything they needed.”
Mrs. Stewart extended her affection as well to her high school students — they often piled into her car after school to go skiing, Love said — and the young people at Arnold Palmer or the Sports Garden, extending free admission to those who couldn’t pay.
“She’d keep the Sports Garden open until everyone was finished; sometimes it was 2 o’clock in the morning,” Love said. “We used to worry about her coming out, but she said: ‘All these tall basketball players will watch my back.'”
Mrs. Stewart had been ill recently, Love said. Her funeral was July 15, and she was buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Victor.