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KENLY — In recognition of his career of public service by providing news and current events for area residents for more than three decades as the Kenly News’ owner and publisher, Rick Stewart of Kenly received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine award on Sunday.
State Rep. Larry Strickland, R-Johnston, presented the award on behalf of Gov. Roy Cooper following morning worship at Kenly Missionary Baptist Church, where Stewart is a member. Strickland co-sponsored Stewart’s nomination.
“We appreciate what you have done for our communities, Johnston County and for the state of North Carolina,” Strickland said during his presentation. “Over the past 37 years, our communities have had a newspaper and we have been kept informed. The newspaper told both the good news and the bad news, but we always knew what was going on.”
Stewart and wife Karen purchased the Kenly News in 1981 and expanded the community newspaper with the addition of three sister publications, the Selma News, Pine Level News and Princeton News Leader.
Stewart retired in September and sold the papers, then known collectively as the Johnstonian News group, to The Wilson Times Co., which combined the editions under the Johnstonian News banner. He holds the honorary title of editor and publisher emeritus.
Rick Stewart has also served on the faculty at Barton College in Wilson since 2002 as a full-time assistant professor teaching primarily journalism classes and public speaking.
He will retire in May.
“I was completely surprised and humbled by the Long Leaf Pine recognition and had no idea it was in the works,” said Stewart. “Karen deserves more credit than I do because she has been the motor that has made getting the papers out each week possible. We are, indeed, appreciative of the recognition and to all who had a hand in making it happen.”
The couple has two sons, Brian and Mark, and five grandchildren Sarah, 10, Bright, 9, Abby, 7, Owen, 5, and Katie, six weeks.
After the Stewarts were named grand marshals of the 2014 Kenly Christmas Parade, Rick Stewart said at that time that he would not trade his time spent in Kenly or in the newspaper business for anything.
“I have never had any doubts,” he said. “I have enjoyed every day I have been here and I am convinced God brought us to the Kenly News. Karen has been a wonderful wife to stick with me and let me live my dream (of owning a newspaper) and I could not have done it without her. Community newspapering has been our life and we felt accepted here from the very beginning.”
The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is considered the highest honor North Carolina’s governor can bestow and is presented to people “who have made significant contributions to the state and their communities through their exemplary service and exceptional accomplishments.”
“Rick Stewart is a close friend and confidant and I have always been able to count on him for wise counsel as have many others in our community,” said George Arant, Stewart’s former pastor.