The theme of Black History Month for 2021 is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. That said, Kenneth Steward is the entrepreneur and principal welder at S & T Specialty Techniques. The business specializes in custom wrought iron welding and fabrication. He attributes his strong work ethics and success to his parents the late Kenneth J. Steward (Mary Kate Tolliver) and grandparents the late George (Florence) Tolliver.
Ken was born in Huntsville and moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. He often visited Jackson County during the summer months and on school breaks. At the age of 13, he begin to help his grandfather, George, who owned Tolliver’s Meat Market on Maples Avenue in Scottsboro.
During this interview, Ken shared that his granddad was a traveling butcher carrying only a knife and saw; he would go to different farms to process meats such as deer, beef and hogs. George later opened the meat market while Florence had one of the first thrift stores in the area.
Steward has not always been a welder. As a matter of fact he taught himself how to play a guitar in about a year. After graduating Brainerd High School in 1973, three weeks later he and a backup band moved to Oklahoma because the band’s manager lived in Tulsa. This was an exciting time and later toured with some legendary musicians such as the Gap Band and the Impressions. In 1978, the backup band began a musical tour starting in Chattanooga and visited cities throughout the U.S. and later at United States Air Forces Bases in Europe with stops in Holland, Germany, Spain, and England for several years.
After leaving the band, he enjoyed a new skill set in the area of welding in Chattanooga. In 1990, tragedy struck, Steward was shot in the head with a 32 caliber pistol at point blank range by a 15-year-old kid who told him to “drop it, drop the money.” The kid(s) had been observing Steward installing security bars and finishing up a job when they decided to rob him that day. His father Kenneth J., heard over the cab’s radio system that his son was considered (Dead on Arrival-DOA) and started to the hospital.
In the meantime, after securing the body in the ambulance, drivers’ took a smoke and coke break before proceeding. Steward experienced an out of body experience that included angels, bright glowing lights and heavenly beings. Trying to write all that was said would be exhaustive for this article, but impressive, while strengthening his Faith in God. Steward was told he would never walk, talk again and would need health care 24/7. His mental capacity was reduced to a six year old mind set. Within five-to-six months his recovery was remarkable spanning from a 2nd grade to college level courses.
In 1991, grandfather Tolliver passed away leaving Mrs. Florence all alone. In the back of his mind Steward says he could hear his father and grandfather saying, “Try to be a man.”
The men in his life lived their lives in such a way that showed Steward how to be a man. Another influential saying by all family members including his grandmother was, “you can make if you won’t be lazy.” Mrs. Florence was now elderly, blind and diabetic needing total care which was only available through her grandson who took care of her as well as all the other duties associated with assisted living conditions and property owners responsibilities.
After experiencing a divorce and tending to his mother who had 26 operations of her own, Steward was now called upon to provide care giving services to grandma Florence which was a “labor of love.” There were two sons during the time he was married, but he knew what he had to do to be a man.
Let’s be clear, if the bulk of this article sounds as if Steward is giving all accolades to his parents and grandparents it is. S & T Specialty Techniques exists because of the contributions and investments brought into his life. Regarding his business name the S- stands for Steward and T- stands for Tolliver, respectively.
Acknowledging a strong belief in God Almighty and His Son Jesus Christ is the only reason and the only way Kenneth Steward could carry on. “Second chances don’t always occur,” and all that he has ever wanted was to own a little company where neighborhood guys could come and train to make a good living for themselves while supporting their families. Currently there is a young journeyman/assistant that is being groomed and mentored by Steward.
Steward says he is so thankful to have found Jesus who helped him and now he would like to help others.