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Founder Stew Leonard Sr. Dies At Age 93

Stew Leonard's
Stew Leonard Sr.

Norwalk, Connecticut-based Stew Leonard’s has announced the death of founder Stew Leonard Sr., who died April 26 at age 93 following a brief illness.

Born Dec. 1, 1929, in Norwalk, Connecticut, to the late Anna Stewart Leonard and Charles Leo Leonard, he is survived by his wife of 70 years, Marianne Guthman Leonard, and their four children, Stew Jr. (Kim), Tom (Karen), Beth (Bill) Hollis and Jill (Rocky) Tavello.

A graduate of Norwalk High School and of the University of Connecticut’s School of Agriculture, Mr. Leonard first worked for his family’s dairy business at Clover Farms Dairy in Norwalk. It was a modern dairy with a pasteurizing and bottling plant, from which fresh milk was delivered daily by trucks that had plastic cows on the front.

In the late 1960s, Mr. Leonard realized the milk delivery business was going away. His belief that it was time to start something new was driven home when the state informed him that Clover Farms Dairy was in the path of a new highway. His dream was to build a retail dairy store where children could watch milk being bottled while parents shopped in a farmer’s market atmosphere.

In December 1969, Stew Leonard’s opened its doors as a 17,000-square-foot store carrying eight items. 

The dairy store Mr. Leonard founded in Norwalk became the “World’s Largest Dairy Store,” according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest dollar sales per square foot of selling space.

The company also received worldwide acclaim for excellence in customer service and quality and is featured in two of management expert Tom Peter’s books – “A Passion for Excellence” and “Thriving on Chaos.” 

The Leonard Family

Mr. Leonard was presented with Presidential Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 1986 by then President Ronald Reagan and gave the keynote address to the National Speakers Association.

Throughout the course of his life, Mr. Leonard was recognized by his peers and the media for excellence in retailing and entrepreneurship and was presented with an honorary doctorate by the University of Bridgeport in 1987.

Mr. Leonard was a writer throughout his life and published a memoir, “Stew Leonard: My Story,” in 2009.  He won the 1956 North American Water Ski championship and set a world and national record in point totals for trick water skiing in 1959. In addition, he invented and patented a device called the “Skee-Trainer,” which was designed to teach people to water ski.

A memorial service and burial will be private, with a celebration of life announced later.

Donations may be made to the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation, which helps fund swimming lessons for children in need, in honor of his grandson who drowned in 1989.

Cards to the family can be sent to 100 Westport Avenue in Norwalk, Connecticut.

To read the full obituary presented by Stew Leonard’s, click here.

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