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Children’s advocate exuded kindness, optimism

Tribune-Review
| Sunday, November 16, 2014 11:33 p.m
5939386StensonSara86
Sara 'Sally' Bankson Stenson, 86, died Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014.

Without fail, Sara Bankson Stenson strove to improve her world.

“She was full of optimism and joy and can-do — that was her approach to everything, whether it was ‘How are we going to get dinner?’ or ‘How are we going to solve social problems?’ ” said Mrs. Stenson’s son, Terry Hunt of Cambridge, Mass. “She lived her life authentically, that’s for sure.”

Sara “Sally” Bankson Stenson, a lifelong advocate for children and former president of the Junior League of Pittsburgh, died during a lengthy battle with dementia in Peterborough, N.H., on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. She was 86.

Her funeral is Thursday in Pittsburgh, where she lived most of her life.

Before it was common for women to re-enter the workforce after giving birth, Mrs. Stenson was a pioneer in advocating for child care legislation.

“Prior to that, the mom stayed at home and took care of the kids,” said her son, John Hunt of Rindge, N.H. “She was on the cutting edge. Whenever it came to child care legislation in Harrisburg, she was there.”

In the 1970s, she had the innovative idea of recruiting retired seniors to volunteer as child care workers. She opened a day care center called Extended Family in East Liberty Presbyterian Church to provide affordable child care thanks to her network of unpaid helpers.

“She had the concept, (and) it was really a neat, innovative feature of the community,” said John Hunt, who served on Extended Family’s board.

Mrs. Stenson loved to travel and often took her children on trips abroad, recalled her daughter, Marion Hunt of New York.

“She was not interested in acquiring things or owning things,” Hunt said. “She cared about people, (and) she loved adventure. She took us all over the place. … She was the kindest woman I ever knew. How many people can say that about their mother?”

Mrs. Stenson divorced her first husband, the late Roy Hunt, in 1972. Three years later, she married Kiernan Stenson, a University of Pittsburgh professor, during a ceremony in Stockholm. They were happily married until Stenson died in 1991.

Mrs. Stenson moved to New Hampshire in her later years to be closer to family. The staff at Summerhill Assisted Living adored her for her ever-pleasant attitude, her children said.

“She always put on a good smile and said ‘Thank you, darling,’ ” John Hunt said. “No matter who you were, you were ‘darling’ when you were with my mom.”

In addition to John, Terry and Marion Hunt, Mrs. Stenson is survived by a son, Andrew Hunt of Jensen Beach, Fla.; a brother, John P. Bankson of Gaithersburg, Md.; and seven grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday in Sacred Heart Parish, 310 Shady Ave., Shadyside. Burial will follow in Allegheny Cemetery, Lawrenceville.

Arrangements are being handled by John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc.

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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