• Woman leads diverse life, but prefers Homer which benefits town
By Christina Whiting
Born and raised in California, Sherry Stead was living on her own by the age of 17, when she decided to leave high school a year early to venture out into the world.
“A friend’s mom drove us to Mammoth Lake,” Stead said. “We skied and worked as maids.”
Driven by her zest for challenge and adventure, Stead has lived in numerous places and enjoyed a variety of jobs over the years. In California, she worked as a computer operator for the Navy then took a job in an art gallery in New Mexico as well as a bank. In Idaho, she worked at a bank and then as a computer operator before moving to the position of calibration technician.
“I didn’t know what a calibration technician did, but it sounded interesting and it was straight days,” Stead said. “So, I looked it up in the dictionary and applied.”
She got the job and worked in a lab, calibrating hand tools for the Idaho National Engineering Lab at the Idaho Nuclear Testing Site. She then worked as a reactor operator at a test reactor.
“That was a great job,” Stead said. “I got to refuel the reactor with new fuel rods.”
After a few years, she sought employment with Southern California Edison in San Onofre, a nuclear power plant. There, she trained with 19 men and worked for five years.
It was here she met and married Don. When son Steven was born, she became a stay-at-home mom.
“With Don and me both on rotating schedules, it would have been impossible to spend any time with Steven,” she said. “And we didn’t want to have a nanny.”
Second son Scott was born three years later and Sherry and Don talked about moving.
“We wanted to raise our kids somewhere other than southern California,” Stead said. “We thought Alaska sounded exciting.”
In 1995, Don got a job in Homer and the family drove from California to Bellingham, caught the ferry to Haines and drove to Homer.
“My requirements for a house were that it be up West or East Hill, no more than a mile, that it have running water and be in our price range,” she said. “Looking back, I see that I was a bit naive.”
They bought a house, but had to live in a fifth-wheel atop East Hill while they waited to move into the house. Their water supply was a hose stuck in a stream.
Stead volunteered with Cub Scouts and easily made friends.
“Thanks to the encouragement of two girlfriends, I participated in my first triathlon,” said Stead.
In 2005, when she turned 50, Stead ran her first marathon, kayaked and biked, watched the Iditarod start in Anchorage and traveled to Mexico and Hawaii.
When Scott graduated, she joined Don in Minnesota where he was working. They lived there for four years and all the while, Stead missed her Homer friends.
“I told Don that he could move me to San Diego or to Alaska, but that I was being moved,” she said.
They returned to Homer in 2010.
Stead currently works part-time as the office manager for the Homer United Methodist Church, is on the board of Haven House, volunteers as a Big Sister, and is involved with Green Dot. and Girls on the Run.
“I like kids and I’m lucky enough to not have to work a full-time job,” Stead said. “I have time to volunteer.”
Hearing that there are 18 to 20 documented homeless youth in Homer motivated Sherry to help organize a community meeting to discuss ways to get meals to these teens. Issues discussed included transportation, work schedules and anonymity.
“For me, I am only focusing on a teen in need of food, and not even using the word homeless,” Stead explained. “This is why the teen’s story really needs to be told. We have heard the teens are working, some more than one job. They get taken advantage of (one girl pays $400 a month for an unheated, uninsulated shed); one family left the state, some parents kick out their teen, and sometimes there is drug abuse by parent and physical abuse at home.”
Stead said she believes that, if a teen has a “healthy home environment with consistent love, the teen would not leave home.”
“The Methodist Church was willing to donate the food, so we had the food and the desire to help,” she said. “We just didn’t know how to get the food to the kids.”
Stead and Rev. Lisa Talbott began handing out sack breakfasts and lunches in the parking lot of Midtown Café on Fridays, between 2-4 p.m.
Stead recently met with Homer High School’s new Students in Transition Coordinator, Amanda Neal, and indicated that Neal is currently doing intakes and assessing needs.
Until those needs are determined, Stead and Talbott have offered to provide backpacks of food for kids to take home over the weekend. They will also continue to distribute sack lunches and breakfasts in the Midtown Cafe parking lot until Aug. 30.
“At that time,” she said, “We’ll see what is best for the school year.”
Active in community service, Stead is also committed to a physically active lifestyle. She plans to walk the 500-mile Camino de Santiago trail in 2014, and loves to hike, kayak, paddle board and play hockey.
“Hockey has become a big passion,” Stead said. “I love the physical workout, the team bonding and the laughter in the locker room.”
And, while her hockey team is called The Divas, Stead’s selfless attitude makes her anything but.
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