Don Lewis

December 10, 2010|By JANET HEIM |
  • The last family photograph was taken at the wedding of Don and Helen Lewis granddaughter, Kristen. The wedding was in Colorado on Aug. 14, about six weeks before Dons death. In the front row, from left, are Bruce Whitt, Nori Dawson, Dotti Whitt, Helen Lewis, Kami Dawson and Don Lewis. In the back row, from left, are Amber Dawson, Rich Dawson, Kristen Zimmerman, James Zimmerman, Donna Dawson, Tina Ferguson, Seth Dawson and Courtney Ferguson. Absent is Jonathon Decker.
Submitted Photo

HAGERSTOWN — Don Lewis might be remembered for his contributions to Boonsboro High School sports, particularly football. To his family, though, he is remembered as a man who always put his family first.

He valued the youths he worked with as students and people first, then athletes, said Dotti Whitt, the youngest of his two daughters, who lives in Colorado.

Don died Sept. 23, two weeks shy of his 82nd birthday. He died surrounded by his family, who were with him during his six days in the hospital. Helen Lewis, his wife of 58 years, said she spoke with him moments before he died, and he squeezed her hand.

At Boonsboro’s home football game the next night, there was a moment of silence for the man credited with getting the program started in the 1950s.

Helen said Don’s health had been failing in recent years, but the decline was more rapid once he started dialysis in February.

The stack of sympathy cards at her Hagerstown home measured 5 inches high, a tribute to a man who touched many lives.

Don grew up in Cumberland, Md., raised with three sisters and a strong work ethic. He had life-threatening osteomyelitis in his thigh bone as a child, Helen said.

The couple met while bowling in Cumberland when Helen, who was four years younger than Don, was a senior in high school. She said many of their dates involved watching football games, but they also roller skated every Friday night, except during football season.

“We had a lot of fun in our marriage,” Helen said.

“And we knew it,” said oldest daughter Donna Dawson of Frederick, Md. “They complemented each other very well. They did everything as a couple.”

Helen said she and Don “loved, respected and supported each other in our various endeavors.”

For Helen, that meant watching lots of sporting events with Don. For Don, that meant going to New York City for live plays and joining two local square dancing clubs with Helen.

Don was hired in 1955 as a history teacher at Boonsboro High School, Helen said.

The couple’s daughters, Donna and Dotti, were born four years apart. The family lived on Mapleville Road in a home that featured Don’s stone work and was across from Boonsboro High, within view of the athletic fields.

Baseball and basketball were the main sports at the school at the time. Don, who played those sports in high school and college, felt a football program would be invaluable to Boonsboro, generating school spirit and drawing the community together.

When Willard Newton became principal, Don got the support he needed to start a football program. It took three years, with Boonsboro fielding a team in 1959. It was the second public high school in Washington County to start a football program — Hancock’s program started two years earlier.

Don graduated from Allegany High School and earned both undergraduate and master’s degrees in education from Frostburg State University. He didn’t have the opportunity to play college football since there was no football team at Frostburg.

Don was offered the head coaching job, but thought it would be better if the job went to someone with more experience, his family said.

Dwight Scott, the 15th and final candidate interviewed, was hired as the first football coach, a job he held for nearly two decades, with Don as assistant coach. In 1977, when Scott (Scottie to the Lewis family) resigned that post, Don took over the head coaching job.

He remained coach for eight years, with current Boonsboro head coach Clayton Anders as his assistant. His daughters remember typing up his football playbooks, which included motivational quotes from other coaches for his players.

Don introduced the deep royal blue uniforms and the addition of players’ names on their jerseys. He also coached soccer, baseball, basketball and track.

Scott, who was asked to speak at Don’s memorial service, said he saw him the day before he died.

“I was very fortunate to have the groundwork laid to initiate the football program at Boonsboro High School. Coach Lewis was my steadfast assistant for 18 years,” Scott said.

“Don Lewis was a good man. He was my friend. He worked behind the scenes to create success for which he often received no fanfare.” he said.

Don took pride in last year’s celebration of 50 years of Boonsboro football at homecoming, his daughters said.

In 1970, Joe Robeson became principal at Boonsboro and worked with Don for 14 1/2 years until Don retired.

“Don is best described as a team player. He never needed to be in the limelight,” Robeson said. “He worked as part of the group, whether in the social studies department, in football or on the track field. He worked to get the best out of the kids.”

Don and Helen volunteered many hours behind the scenes.

“Our parents were very visible, very involved,” said Dotti Whitt, 53.

That continued with the next generation, as Don and Helen made every effort to be at the figure skating competitions, gymnastics meets, soccer, baseball, basketball and football games of their four grandchildren.

When the girls were students at Boonsboro, they knew to tell their father of problems right away before he heard from their teachers.

“They really didn’t want to do anything that would embarrass him,” said Helen, 77.

Despite her best efforts, Donna, 56, ended up having her father as a teacher. She earned an “A” in his class, thanks to hard work and no favors from the teacher.

More than athletics, though, Don was known for building character and respect. The family was active in their church in Boonsboro and involved in the community.

There were many written tributes to Don for his 80th birthday bash, but his family was especially touched by a letter written by one of Don’s former football players, now a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force.

“Although small in stature, you were huge not only in my eyes, but huge in the eyes and hearts of us all. We all respected you for being a man of honor, a man of knowledge (especially in the classroom), and a man who cared deeply about each player ... You knew us better than we knew ourselves,” wrote Col. Greg Cummins, a 1968 Boonsboro graduate.

Don was known for stepping up when there was a need. He was the adviser to a singing group, even though he couldn’t sing, all to help the students.

When the high school yearbook adviser quit, leaving a debt-ridden publication, Don took over the reins for five years. He turned the finances around in the process.

Once their daughters left home, Don and Helen pulled up stakes as well. After 30 years at Boonsboro, it was time to put the classroom and football field behind them.

“When we retired, we had another life,” Helen said.

Now, travel could be a focus instead of a vacation. They were famous for the family vacations they took in their truck camper, in which they trekked to most of the 50 states, including Alaska.

The couple started going to Florida regularly in 1986 and eventually settled in Davenport, Fla., during the winter months, returning to their home in Hagerstown in the summer.

Helen said she also has a good support system and some golfing buddies in their golf course community in Florida.

For now, the family said, they’re celebrating Don’s life, not mourning his death,

“He was a huge being to us. He was a helping hand, an arm around the shoulder, the rock of our family,” Dotti said.

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