SENECA FALLS — A longtime downtown business owner will be the 19th annual recipient of the 2022 George Bailey Award.
Stewart Jensen will receive the award that honors a Seneca Falls resident who most displays the character of George Bailey in the 1946 Frank Capra classic “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Many believe the movie’s fictional Bedford Falls was modeled after Seneca Falls of the 1940s.
The Bailey award is sponsored by the IDEA Center for the Voices of Humanity in Seneca Falls. It’s given to someone “who is part of something that is bigger than oneself.”
Jensen and his family have operated Seneca Office Products on Fall Street for almost 30 years. The store’s inventory epitomizes the small-town businesses that values everyone and goes out of its way to find the best price for each customer, according to Anwei Law of the IDEA Center.
A graduate of Mynderse Academy, Jensen said he returned to his hometown in the 1970s after two years of college in Poughkeepsie, with a goal of beginning a life of making Seneca Falls a better place.
“I came back to Seneca Falls and joined the Jaycees, the Junior Chamber of Commerce,” Jensen said. “Among our community service activities, we set up a phone bank for the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon as well as helping work those phones.”
He and his wife, Lois, had two sons, Nicholas and Adam. In the 1990s, they became involved in Boy Scouts; Stewart became Scoutmaster of a local troop. The Scouts became involved in “Scouting for Food” program every autumn for 10 years for the Seneca County House of Concern food pantry.
After his sons left Scouting, Jensen remained involved.
In the early ’90s, he served on the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce board.
Law said Jensen has long worked on making Fall Street downtown a safe place for pedestrians. In 1996, tourist traffic was increasing due to the approaching 150th anniversary of the first women’s rights convention of 1848.
“Stewart recalls that screeching brakes were a regular occurrence and a pedestrian accident was inevitable,” Law said. “He bought a crossing sign, acquired permission to place the sign, and took it off the street every night after busy pedestrian traffic ended.”
After a minor debate with the state, the former Village Board approved the sign and two others on Fall Street.
In the early 2000s, Jensen started to address the lack of parking affecting local businesses. Representing the Seneca Falls Business Association, he researched and helped implement ways to improve the situation.
“One can imagine George Bailey doing exactly the same thing, always looking for ways to make life better for everyone in his community,” Law said.
“Service recognition is not the goal,” Jensen noted. “To me, it has been to help others and to be a part of something positive that is bigger than oneself.”
Jensen will receive the award from Karolyn Grimes, the actor who played young Zuzu Bailey in the film. The presentation, with friends, family and those whose lives have been touched by Jensen in attendance, will be at 10 a.m. Dec. 10 in Trinity Episcopal Church on Fall Street.