Tag Archives: life

Roll The Credits

30 Jan

This was a momentous week in the Stew’s Brew household – our oldest son, Joel, has officially headed out of the nest and into the real world. He moved this week to the Bay Area of California to start his professional career with Tesla Motors as a process engineer in their big plant that turns out all the awesomeness like the Model S P85D with Insane Mode. He will be working on the paints and finishes team integrating new products into the production stream. Pretty amazing stuff!

His mom, Robin and I, would love to take all the credit for his success, but as Hilary Clinton most famously said, “It takes a village to raise a child” and Joel truly is the product of that. Obviously whatever we did as parents either a) didn’t screw him up that badly; or b) was great parenting (somewhere in the middle is the truth), and his own amazing hard work, singular focus, putting himself into position for success, etc., had a everything to do with it too.

But I’d like to acknowledge some of the tons of positive influences he had on his life as some of these folks really helped guide him. There are many, many others that I’m sure I’m not putting on the list.  As in the usual practice, I’m not going to use full names, but I’ll use first names, nicknames, etc. to identify folks.

We have to start with his grandparents, including one who never met him, his grandfather Donn Campbell. Starting with my Dad – Joel entered this world about 5 weeks after my Dad’s passing. He is so much like his grandfather Donn, as to be uncanny – his love of sports, obsession with making lists, success drive, general kindness, easy to meet people, etc. – all of that was expressed in my Dad too. None of us truly know how things work beyond this life, but we like to think that perhaps there was a meeting somewhere prior to Joel’s being born where he got some great coaching. My Mom, LindaC also has been a huge positive influence. From Joel’s love of cooking and the finer things in life, his crossword obsession, to the great experiences of going to “Camp Grandma” during the summer (and allowing Robin and me to travel and keep a great marriage) – and so much more – lots of Grandma Linda went into making Joel.

Robin’s folks, Julie and Merle, being the local grandparents, have had an enormous influence. Merle took care of Joel shortly after he was born to allow Robin to continue working – Robin used to go to her house to feed Joel on her lunch breaks – this daycare, at a time when we were struggling financially was just enormous. They also were big contributors to childcare for us – allowing us to travel and do things that couples should have time to do, and helped us out in so many ways. Thank you.

The rest of the family also continually provided such positive influences -his aunts and uncles Becky & Tom, Shari & Micah, Jon & Erica, his cousins, “greats and grands” like Steve & Linda, Reisa & Warren, and his departed great grandparents that he adored so much. The family is filled with secure, successful people and huge collection of long-lasting, great marriages. Much to emulate for him.

Joel, of course, loves his sports and is a soccer player, loved playing baseball and basketball – all of his sports coaches contributed – from his BGRA coaches like Ray, Steve (the Starbucks man), Elliott, and more; to his soccer coaches – Sherm in particular who coached him mulitple seasons – all of them instilled competitiveness in him, a sense of fair play and taught him the importance of playing on teams.

His work experiences of course have really guided him – and I’d like to call out two special couples.  Dave and Lucia, who own Tamarak Day Camp in Lincolnshire, were Joel’s first “bosses” – Joel started out as a camper at their camp – an experience all our kids enjoyed – immensely positive – and then as soon as he was eligible to do so, he started working there as have his brothers who continue to work there. Joel learned early on the value of a fair but firm boss in Dave and Lucia and the value of hard work, teamwork and more in his formative years there. Dave and Lucia, I hope you understand how important your mentorship is of not only your campers but your employees – all of my kids have said they enjoy working there even more than being campers there, and that they have learned so much from both of you.

The other special couple I’d like to call out are Mark and Ellen. Mark is a high school mate of mine, and despite not having seen each other in pretty much more than 30 years, he took on the role of “how to navigate the car business” advisor for Joel as he is an engineer at Nissan. He guided Joel early on as he was heading into Engineering school at Illinois, and then continued to guide him as he got involved in Formula SAE racing (crucial to his success) and finally, applied a bit of “runway foam” as Joel went after his first internship at Nissan’s tech center in Detroit, where Mark works. Which would have been plenty! But there’s more – that summer, when Joel was interning for Nissan – Mark’s wife Ellen took Joel under her wing, fed him dinner once a week, took him shopping when he needed it and generally adopted him as one of her own. Amazing! You two are truly special people.

Lastly, and not leastly, we’d like to thank all of our friends – we are firm believers that the family you choose is as important as the family you have – and you all are the family we choose. Our close friends, Chris & Gail, Bill & Robin, Steve & Pam (Faltese and Mitzi), Jason & Andrea, Les & Angie, Mark & Jodi, Harry & Liz, Gary & Jill, Joel & Tammy, Marc & Susan, Greg & Molly, and many more have all had such a positive influence on Joel in so many ways.

We always like to joke that Joel is one of the luckiest people we know and that “the universe works for Joel” – but that discounts his hard work, and that discounts the influences of all the people who positively influenced him for his growing up years. We have to chalk this success up to his intelligence and hard work, shaken and stirred with a lot of wonderful people who all rubbed off a bit of themselves on our dear son.

Thank you friends and family! We wouldn’t be at this point without you. And we love you all.

As you were,



Dirty Room Problems

23 Sep

My wife and I are very, very blessed with three young men that we’re pleased to call our sons.  They are smart people, who have always made great choices.  In high school when other kids were having drinking parties or smoking weed, our guys were doing things like board game parties or “LAN” video game parties.  Nerdy?  Perhaps a bit, but also just simply they had great friends who shared their values and they would have the kind of fun that they would prefer to have.

In short, they really didn’t give us a lot of worry – they weren’t out late carousing, they weren’t out tearing around in the car, they weren’t drinking or doing drugs, they generally got decent-to-great grades, they have kind and respectful friends and well, we didn’t have much to worry about.  But like everything, “water seeks its own level” – which means in this case that without much to worry about, little worries become amplified.  I firmly believe that the parent/child relationship requires a bit of this dissonance to work – yes, you can be good friends with your kids, your kids can be pretty golden, etc., but at the end of the day, parents and their kids naturally need to go at it a bit.  Which brings us to  the topic of this post:  Dirty Room Problems.

We always have joked that the biggest problems our kids gave us were dirty rooms.  Which, is a nice way to say, we are counting our blessings with them.  Literally our biggest source of conflicts were about socks all over the family room, their bedrooms being kept very cluttered, the basement “man cave” being an absolute mess, and more. Absent of other conflicts, these were the problems we chose to argue about with them. 

But having gone through the teen years now for the most part – all three are in college now – and watching our friends and acquaintances with their kids, and the challenges they frequently have, our phrase “dirty room problems” becomes our triumphant cheer.  When we have our blessings to count, we love those dirty rooms.

The “dirty room problem” concept can be carried to pretty much everything in life.  I firmly count my blessings every day, and can honestly say that I have little to worry about in this life.  Sure, the financial burdens of putting three kids through college are stifling, but we’re fortunate to both have good careers that pay us well.  Sure, my health could be better, but being 50 lbs overweight and having a treatable problem in my heart is infinitely better than what some face.  Is my house perfect?  No, but I sure do like it and we continually work to improve it.  Etc. etc. etc. 

Years ago, when I was facing an especially rough patch in my life – it was 1992 – I had lost a great job in the 1991 recession when the company I was working for began to fail.  I joined another gent from that company to start a business, and it was failing.  My dad had just died of cancer, and my first son was just born.  While I wouldn’t say I was in depression, I would say that I felt pretty bleak.  I took a three-day course called “The Forum”.   It was interesting in that it taught me to choose the life I have versus fighting it.  And especially, recognize exactly the truth about the journey that brought you there.

The clarity of thinking that I learned those three days has really informed me going forward.  And it leads me to recognize things for what they are, to not dwell on the negative but just to deal with it.  And of course, to appreciate the positive and enjoy the life that I have versus wishing for the life I don’t have. 

Dirty room problems.  At the end of the day, the vast majority of my problems are just that.  Dirty rooms.  A bit of picking up, run the vacuum through it, and problem is solved.  And for that, I am immensely thankful.  

As you were,


Miss ya, Dad.

1 Jul

Twenty years ago today, my dad, Donn Campbell, passed away.  Hard to believe it’s been 20 years.  I was only 30 years old when he passed – my wife Robin was pregnant with my now-about-to-turn 20 years old son, Joel.  He was born only six weeks later.  I’m 50 now.  Hard to believe how time flies.

I wanted to write about my Dad today for a number of reasons.  There are so many people in my life now that never knew him, and I’d like to introduce you to him.  Obviously, another reason is simply in memory of him.  And, well, I miss him. Earlier this week, an old friend from my hometown, Sharil, wrote a beautiful missive on Facebook about her dad, who had passed in 2005.  I never met him but after reading her story, I felt I did.  So, thanks for being my muse today, Sharil.

I’m going to attempt to introduce you to my dad today.  This isn’t a sad story about a life ended too early (It was.), or a tearful drone about missing him (I do.) – instead, I’m just going to tell you about him.  And hopefully, you’ll get a glimpse into who he was, what he was about, and why everybody who knew him thought he was pretty much the nicest guy they had ever met.  I’m going to try to make this NOT sound like a eulogy.  We’ll see how I do.

My Dad was sort of the epitome of the song “Small Town” by John Mellencamp.  In that song, Mellencamp talks about a guy who was born in a small town, lived in a small town and will probably die in that same small town.  My dad was born and raised in Newton, IA and lived his entire life there, and well, died nearby, and is buried there as well.   He was fiercely proud of his hometown, his state and his alma mater.  Out traveling, he’d be the first guy to proudly speak up with “we’re from Iowa”.

Being one of those rare folks that lived his entire life in the same small town, he was immensely proud of his town. Newton IA is a tidy little town, 30 miles outside of Des Moines, with a population of about 15,000 people.  When my Dad passed, Newton was still riding pretty high – Maytag Co. hadn’t yet overgrown its opportunities and gotten sold off to Whirlpool, dealing the town a hard blow.   He went to the local high school, where I graduated as well, and played football there.  He had season tickets to the Cardinals and went to nearly every football game there, following them like someone might follow an NFL team.  Newton’s football nights are the embodiment of Friday Night Lights, and without the presence or distractions of nearby pro sports, it’s everyone’s outlet for sports fan activity – an outlet my Dad always enjoyed.  He was actively involved in a number of aspects of the community and I think was one of its most ardent supporters.

He was a broad-based sports fan in general – he’d pore over the Sports section in the Des Moines Register every morning, especially the stats page – that’s a habit my son Joel has today.  He was also a tremendous fan of his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes – he had season tickets to the Hawkeyes for years, and when I was in school, my favorite thing was to roll out of my dorm or frat room bed and head across campus to my parents tailgate bashes.  He rarely missed a home game for the Hawkeye football team, and frequently made it to Iowa City for basketball as well.  When he went to Iowa, he was part of the championship-winning team in that era, as a manager.  He was still wearing his letterman’s jacket years later – I remember him wearing it when we’d go sledding.

After college, he went into the US Air Force – he was in ROTC in college and went in as an officer – a 2nd Lieutenant and left the service 3 years later with the rank of Captain.  My dad was fiercely patriotic – shortly after we moved to the house my mom still lives in – in 1971 – we erected a 20 foot flagpole in the front yard and proudly displayed the Red White and Blue every day.  We’d have an epic 4th of July brunch every year with a flag-raising party.  I think that was one of his most favorite days of the year.  Those that know me locally know that ever since I’ve had a single family home (20+ years now), I’ve had a 20-foot flag pole in my front yard too.  And it displays Old Glory every day.

His career, and his “other” life was his business – Maytag Dairy Farms – makers of the delicious Maytag Blue Cheese.  His dad/my Grandfather helped the Maytag family found the Blue Cheese business in the late 1930s/1940s, and when my dad graduated from Iowa and returned from the Air Force, he worked for the Maytag Company for a few short weeks before the Dairy Farms hired him to work at his dad’s side.  When my grandfather retired as Chairman, and died shortly after, in 1973, my dad ascended to President of the company and ran it until his death 20 years ago.  He loved that business – loved both the cheese and the farm operations side of it (in addition to making cheese, Maytag Dairy used to have a championship-winning Holstein dairy herd.  He had a strong partnership with his “boss” – Fritz Maytag, who is widely known now as the father of the craft brewing movement.  Together with Fritz, they built Maytag Blue Cheese into the brand that is widely known today, and expanded production, introduced new products, build brand buzz through press, restaurant menu distribution, events and more.  I was never given the opportunity to work there, and in fact when I asked my Dad about it two years before his passing, he discouraged me from it, saying he believed that I would be bored there.  He was probably right. But it was his favorite thing.

So, what was my dad like?  He was just a great guy.  Very simply.  He was always that guy that would invite you to join into whatever he’d be doing at the time with a hearty smile and a firm handshake.  My best memories of him as a kid are a mix of adventures – such as hiking in the Rocky Mountains, fishing in Northern Minnesota lakes, and of parties and entertaining.  It seems, as I look back on being a kid, that my folks were always entertaining people – from their epic Hawkeye game tailgates, to parties, to simply having others to our home for dinner or even just a beer on the patio in the afternoon, my parents were the consummate hosts.  My mom, of course, has much to do with that, being an incredible cook, and an even better host, but my dad was an equally willing partner.  This is something that has carried forward, of course, with me.  I would much rather cook and serve dinner for friends in our home than go out to dinner.  People ask Robin and I where we get that, and it comes from our families.  It’s what we do, because it’s what we’ve done for our entire lives.  And I can put a lot of that inspiration on my Dad.

My dad was also naturally outgoing,  a “friendmaker”.  He would make a new friend everywhere he went, and naturally engaged strangers in conversation, and of course within seconds of the start of the conversation, two points would be made that a) he was from Iowa, b) have you had Maytag Blue Cheese?   And everytime, he made a friend.  I can’t imagine anyone ever meeting my dad and afterwards saying anything derogatory about him.  He also generally had a great sense for people, and well, a bit of a naive trust that everyone was a good to the core, and as nice and well intentioned as him.  My favorite “dad made a friend” story comes from one of our Colorado skiing vacations we took during high school and college.  He had ridden the chairlift with a couple of interesting guys from Columbia, who were staying in what was at the time in Breckenridge, the ritziest condo development in town.  Later that day we were invited to their condo, and of course it was incredibly opulent.  My mother and I, being the skeptics in the family, started putting two-and-two together when we were hearing that these guys flew to Breckenridge in their private jet, had houses in multiple cities, etc.  These were cocaine moguls.  My dad would hear none of that, though a few years later would just chuckle and say “Yeah, well, that’s probably right.  But hey, they were still nice guys!”

My dad loved life.  He liked both simple pleasures and big times as well.  He loved home improvement projects like painting the house because it allowed him to just relax and do things – a pleasure I understand well.  He’d derived just as much pleasure from a good walk after dinner as he would from going to a big event at their local country club.  His favorite thing was to provide for others – treating you to dinner, entertaining you in his home or at his tailgate, providing cheese for a charity event, or just volunteering.  I write a lot about “the little things” in this blog.  I learned this from my Dad.

At my dad’s funeral, our next door neighbor, who was the Chairman/CEO of Maytag at the time (Leonard Hadley), came up to me and gave me a big, uncharacteristic hug (this guy wasn’t a hugger), and with tears in his eyes (again, incredibly uncharacteristic), said to me “Your dad was the nicest man I’ve ever met.”  Wow.

I think a lot of folks would agree.  As would I.  For those that never met him, I hope after reading this, you’ve gotten a sense of that as well.

Miss ya, Dad.  Love you.

As you were,


Hello world! Welcome to Stew’s Brew

15 Jul

Well, today is the day I start a new chapter in my life – blogging.  After fiddling around for ages on a huge variety of online forums, from special interest forums like cooking, cars, vacation destinations, etc., to being a true Facebook-junkie (hey, I get paid for it.  Really!), I’ve decided to give this outlet for my creativity a try.

I’ve always been drawn to the written word – as a little kid, I was a tremendous reader, and for the most part, still am (although my wife, Robin would say otherwise of late – too much computer, not enough book).  In high school, I started to really tap my writing skills, and found Journalism to be my calling.  In college, with two majors, one in Journalism, one in Political Science, it seems all I did was write papers.  I wrote for the Daily Iowan at school for a semester, and in one of my first jobs out of school – selling ad space for the Des Moines Skywalker (a lifestyle paper like the Chicago Reader or Village Voice, albiet on a Des Moines-like scale), I even wrote columns for that.  I love to write.

So, why did it take me until 25 years after I wrote my last Skywalker column to do this?  Great question.  Part of it is time.   Part of it is deciding what I want to write about.  I still don’t know that.  I just know I want to write.  I hope you want to read and to listen.

So, what will Stew’s Brew be about?  Life.  That’s it.  Sometimes, it will be big, pithy tomes about anything from a political topic to the new fallen snow on a Shabbat morning (I’ll probably republish that here, come winter – that was a Facebook note from a while back.)  Definitely there will be cooking to be found on here – recipes, pictures of meals, observations of fun times had with friends, etc.   There might be observations about business and the business that I am in, though I am considering a professional blog instead for that.  And most certainly, there will be just commentary about life as I see it pass before my baby blues (albeit a bit more nearsighted than in years past).

I have a few insiprations for this that I’d like to thank.  First, I’d like to thank my cousin, Tom Cox.  Tom is a blogger extraordinare, and if you haven’t read his writing, you are missing out – his blog, Carpetbaggery (carpetbaggery.com) is a fantastic observational and humorous blog – much in the same vein that I’ll be doing.  And, I’d like to thank my pal Chris Wright – while not an avid blogger, he’s also done it awhile, but as of last night he couldn’t remember his URL.  Ooops.  And finally, a work colleague, David Deal.  I like to call David the “Real Deal” as he is entirely the real deal – a social networking wizard, fantastic writer, and the crafter and keeper of iCrossing’s social networking brand, just by reading his blogs (and he has more than a few), and talking to him, I feel like I’ve found my voice at this point.

So, as they say, “watch this space for things to come”, “stay tuned for …” and, quoting Rocket J. Squirrel (of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame), “Now here’s something we hope you really like.”

As you were.


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