Wes Stone believed in caring for others and providing shelter to those in need.
The 72-year-old St. Paul man died Sunday morning after a fire at his home in the Merriam Park neighborhood. Two boarders who lived with him managed to escape; a mother and young son also lived in the house but were not home at the time of the fire, neighbors said.
“Wes really taught me the meaning of loving your neighbor like you love yourself,” said Jeremiah Gibbons, a longtime friend and neighbor of the family. “He treated everyone like he was his best friend.”
Stone was loved by neighbors in the 1800 block of Carroll Avenue and “everyone who knew him,” said Ferdinand Peters, another longtime friend. “He was a kind and gentle soul. He cared more about others than himself.”
Stone has helped many people avoid homelessness over the years, Peters said. “He was the kind of person who did things quietly,” he said. “He didn’t need the praise of others; he just did what he did. He was just a decent human being.
Stone spoke French, read voraciously, played the flute and enjoyed a good laugh, said Julie Dincau, who met Stone at a poetry reading in 2001.
But Stone’s real passion was history, she says. He worked for years as a part-time interpreter at the Henry Sibley Historic Site in Mendota Heights and the Alexander Ramsey House in St. Paul.
“He researched every detail and did everything he could to find out more about the history” of the sites, she said. “For example, there is a famous painting of Native Americans that hung in Mankato, and Wes did extensive research on that particular painting. He researched and read all the documents available on the Sibley House or on Mendota Heights. He was simply amazing in history.
Stone’s visits to the sites were a masterclass in historical research, said his twin brother, Walter Stone. “When he toured, he didn’t just recite it from memory,” he said. “He did a lot of independent research. He could tailor his speeches to the individual audience or answer any silly questions anyone in the audience might have because he knew so much more.
For example, in 1997, Wes Stone developed a program for children on the astronomical observations of the first cartographer Joseph Nicollet. “Wes has always loved cards,” his brother said.
VISITED MINNESOTA AS A SCOUT
Stone grew up in Moberly, Missouri, and was active in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. He and his brothers, Walter and Wendell Stone, all became Eagle Scouts, the highest rank a Boy Scout can attain, Walter Stone said.
The Stone brothers went with the Boy Scouts to Ely, Minnesota one summer in the mid-1960s for a two-week canoe trip through the Boundary Waters Canoe area. Wes loved it. “After that, Wes rode every summer, continuing as a guide,” Walter Stone said.
In 1969, Wes Stone and three friends spent a month canoeing from the north end of Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba to Hudson Bay. “He always did interesting and adventurous things,” said Walter Stone. “It was long before GPS receivers and satellite phones, so it was a pretty brave journey to take.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Missouri in 1972, Wes Stone went to Togo with the Peace Corps. During his three years in West Africa, he oversaw the construction of two primary schools, two public latrines, a 10-meter bridge and a well.
“He liked to accomplish something concrete,” said Walter Stone. “When you’re in college, you write articles. Well, he loved doing something and building something – where it resulted in a real thing.
After the Peace Corps, Wes Stone moved to Ely to work as an engineering technician for the US Forest Service. He later became a licensed land surveyor and taught geomatics at St. Paul College, his brother said.
Wes Stone married Kathlyn Kainz in Ely in 1986 and had one daughter, Welsa Stone; the couple later divorced.
The cause of the fire, which is believed to have started in the kitchen, is still under investigation. A cat belonging to one of Stone’s boarders died in the fire; the cat, named Sir Two Sox, was 26, Gibbons said.
The neighbors are planning a vigil on Thursday evening. They’re also working to raise money and items for her boarders, who are currently being assisted by the Red Cross and staying at a hotel in Roseville, said Andrea Plautz, who lives a few doors down from Stone’s home.
“These people went through such a shock,” Plautz said. “It’s so overwhelming. But when someone in this neighborhood needs something, we all stick together and really help each other. I love this neighborhood. I know he always has my back.
Helping those in need is exactly what Stone would have done, she said. “He had a big heart and he was a very, very nice man.”
Stone is survived by her daughter, Welsa, of St. Paul.
Arrangements have been made with Crescent Tide Cremation Services of St. Paul.