Nevin K. Lewis

December 03, 2011|By JANET HEIM |
  • Nevin Lewis rides a tractor at Lewis Orchards in this photo.
Submitted Photo

CAVETOWN, Md. — Nevin Lewis, known as "Pappy" to his 10 grandchildren and "Great Pappy" to his three great-grandchildren, loved his family and hard work.

As the third generation to own and operate Lewis Orchards near Cavetown, Nevin thrived on a life filled with long hours and physical labor, much of it spent working side by side with family members.

"He loved to watch stuff grow. He loved the idea of planting a seed and watching something grow out of it," youngest son Steven "Steve" Lewis said.

"He loved the land and loved the outdoors," daughter Sheryl Shriver said.

Steve said the farm grew "exponentially" when his father operated it. It began with 12 acres in the first generation and grew to 300 at its peak, with the family now farming about 200 acres of peach and apple trees, as well as an assortment of other fruits and vegetables. At one point, they also had livestock, mostly beef cattle and hogs, oldest son Kevin Lewis said.

"He tried to grow everything. Remember okra? That was fun," Sheryl said.

In addition to his work on the orchard, Nevin committed many hours to a long list of community organizations and his church, Christ Reformed Church United Church of Christ in Cavetown.

As an example, after long hours in the orchard, Nevin would round up the family for their night to work the food stand at the Smithsburg Carnival.

"He was so much into volunteering and helping people," said Shirley Lewis, Nevin's wife. "Even though we were working long hours, he always made time to help others."

For about 30 years, the family provided and cooked breakfast after the Easter sunrise service at church.

"That was our family celebration," Sheryl said.

It was while volunteering at Community Rescue Service that Nevin met Shirley Grove of Clear Spring. She worked there as a dispatcher and he worked on an ambulance.

The couple dated for three years before they married. They recently celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary.

"When I first met him, he was the most generous, kindest person," Shirley said. "It didn't matter if he was in a suit — if there was work to be done or a tire to be changed, he'd help. He was always helping people."

Shirley said they honeymooned in Florida, where she fell in love with the orange groves. She said she was naive enough then to think they could run the orchards back home during the growing season here, then grow oranges in Florida during the offseason.

She said she quickly learned that the family orchards required year-round work, whether planting, harvesting, pruning or going to market.

"Mom worked as hard at the business as Dad did," said Steve, who added that after working together outside during daylight hours, his parents would work on the business end together in the evening.

"We were together 24/7," Shirley said.

For about 10 months out of the year until his late 70s, Nevin worked 60- to 80-hour weeks, she said.

Steve took over much of the responsibility for the past year under his father's watchful eye since his full-time job was the most flexible. His wife, siblings and spouses all work other jobs, but help with the orchard as needed.

"We had a lot of fun working together," Sheryl said. "We were with family."

"I just remember he'd work tremendous hours, from sunup to sundown. He could outwork anybody," daughter-in-law Cindy Lewis said.

"You don't know exhaustion until you've worked a summer," grandson Matthew "Matt" Shriver said.

He also recalls the forces of nature on the business and the family gathering during a hailstorm.

"It was a somber event watching the hail come down," Matt said.

"Hail pretty much takes everything out," Cindy said.

Nevin looked ahead, thinking about what needed to be planted.

"He always looked to the future," Sheryl said.

At the height of the apple harvest, there might be 20 to 25 employees working at the orchard, with Nevin leading by example. All of the grandchildren and many local teens got their first experience of the work world at Lewis Orchards, learning Nevin's work ethic and values in addition to earning a paycheck.

While Nevin's family knew of his big heart and kind ways, they still were overwhelmed by some of the stories they heard at the visitation.

"I never realized how many lives he touched," Shirley said.

"Apparently, he made quite an impact — things we didn't even know," Sheryl said.

Nevin liked to share a joke and a laugh.

"He loved to have a good time," Sheryl said. "He was all about working, but a jokester. He loved to have fun."  

"He loved life," Shirley said.

Family vacations while the Lewises were raising their children — due to finances and the workload at home — consisted of a 3 a.m. Saturday start, heading to Ocean City, Md., for a bit of down time at the beach and returning home Sunday.

As the children grew up and moved out, it was important to Nevin to get the entire family together for vacations. A trip in 2000 was the first of three vacations to which he treated his family.

"It was all about family," said Shirley, pointing to the living room walls of their Cavetown home that serve as a gallery for family portraits and assorted pictures.

All three of Nevin and Shirley's children live within a half-mile of their parents.

As an emergency room nurse, Cindy did her share of treating her father-in-law. She said rarely did an injury slow him down, that he'd insist on a bandage or whatever treatment was required, then it was back to work.

A fall from an apple tree in 1973 was the beginning of a lot of physical problems for Nevin, including arthritis in his joints. Two hip replacements, three knee replacements and numerous other serious health issues couldn't slow him down.

"Cindy was his personal nurse," Sheryl said. "We needed a personal nurse for him."

"He's had every syndrome. The man's had nine lives," Cindy said.

" ... and then some," Matt added.

Nevin was battling pancreatic cancer, but it was a fall as he was getting out of the car at home after grading apples that turned the tide. He died three days later, just two days before Thanksgiving.

Shirley said people commented about the timing, so close to the holiday, but she said it turned out to be a blessing. Most of the grandchildren were home from college on break and got to spend time with Nevin in his final days.

Nevin's grandsons insisted on carrying his casket to the grave site, a tribute to his hard work and their love for him. They wore Lewis Orchards caps with their suits.

"I'm very proud to call him Dad, no doubt about it," Steve said.

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Nevin K. Lewis, who died Nov. 22 at the age of 81. His obituary was published in the Nov. 24 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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