Connie Stewart is the executive director of Initiatives for Cal Poly Humboldt. The former executive director of California Center for Rural Policy, she remains involved with CCRP as its chief policy advisor. Before speaking at the Zócalo/California Wellness event “Can Rural Education Survive the 21st Century?,” she joined us in the green room in downtown Bakersfield to chat about gardening, why she can fall in love with any sport, and the recipe she’s taking to her grave.
Halloween is coming up, so we have to know: what's your favorite candy?
I am a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup girl. Anything with peanut butter in it. I am a peanut butter fanatic.
Is there an educator who really made an impact in your life growing up?
Mr. Fonda. Sixth grade. Changed my life. Literally changed my life. I had a very, very racist teacher in fifth grade. And I was really a distraught student. And Mr. Fonda made me fall in love with education all over again. He just had this fantastic mannerism and he made everything about education really, really fun. And he cared about us, and it came across. After a hard fifth grade, it was just nice to have a teacher who actually made you feel comfortable. I was the only Black kid in my school. It was really difficult. And he just made me feel like I was part of the community. So, shout out to Mr. Fonda.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I can watch just about any sport. I love NASCAR. I don't watch much golf, but I know enough about golf to stay in a conversation. I love motorsports. And I follow European soccer. Any sport, if I walk in the door, I can fall in love with it. Each sport has its own culture, and its own group of fans. Most of the time I fall in love with a sport that has a community behind it. I like to get engaged in the community and understand the community. Every now and then when I'll hear there's some sport that people are starting to pay a lot more attention to, and I'll go, OK, I'm gonna join that community, too!
What’s one of your hidden talents?
I am an avid gardener, and I have a big rose garden. I have 85 roses in my backyard. At the end of the day, I really would love to just spend more time in my garden.
I joined the Rose Society when I got to town [Arcata]. Most of the people in the Rose Society were very old, and so many of my roses in my garden have memories of old friends. I really have to take good care of the roses [because family members of friends who passed away have given them to me]. I don't really spend a lot of time on the formal name of the rose because it’s this friend that passed away’s rose or that friend that’s passed away’s rose; “Glenda’s memorial rose,” or something like that.
We were chatting Betty Crocker earlier. What’s your favorite recipe?
I have a recipe I never share with anybody because I know I'll get invited to parties if I bring this recipe! It's my grandmother's corn pudding recipe. I think there are many people that don't really like me, but they love my grandmother's corn pudding recipe, so I occasionally get invited and know I can be part of the club if I bring my grandmother's pudding recipe. I might have to put it into my will so that it lives on beyond me. But I'm never sharing it with anyone because then I will never be invited to another party. I know for a fact there are weddings that I've been invited to and asked to bring big batches of my grandmother’s corn pudding.
Well now we need to invite you to a party! OK, last question: This is a panel about rural education in California. Where's your favorite place in California to go?
Home. I travel California a lot and go to a lot of places and I'm always happy to be home in Arcata, California.