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August 12, 2009 > Newarkness: Hank Lewis

Newarkness: Hank Lewis

When Newark Mayor David Smith comments on civic matters with his signature one-liner "Yowza," his voice resonates with the essence of what he refers to as "Newarkness." Although the mayor's tenure has been extensive, he would probably be one of the first to agree that the culture and commitment of Newark's constituency has been molded over many years through the efforts of pioneering Newark citizens. One of these, Harry "Hank" Lewis, recently passed away (July 24, 2009) leaving an enduring legacy for the community.

Prior to his life in Newark, honorable service in World War II, earned Hank the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was cited for bravery when tasked to extricate a live bomb that had jammed in the bomb bay of a B-29 Superfortress aircraft while in action. Many such details were unknown to family and friends since his modest attitude focused on results irrespective of who received credit. His philosophy was, "There is no limit to the good a man can do if he does not care who gets the credit."

Following discharge from the service, Hank met his future wife on a double date when one of the girls was unable to go and Carleen agreed to fill in for her. As daughter Sharon says, "Thank goodness for my siblings and me!" Immediately smitten by Carleen's charms, Hank knew this was the woman he wanted to marry. His employer, Pacific Telephone and Telegraph, asked Hank to transfer to another location and time was short for Hank to "pop the question." He did, she said 'yes' and they married March 30, 1947.

Hank, Carleen and their three children, Sharon, Harry Jr. better known as "Butch" and Alan moved to Newark in 1954. Kippy, the Lewis' beagle was a common sight surveying the community on unauthorized jaunts. Even though Hank's life was busy with work and family, Hank also served with the Newark Volunteer Fire Department.

A dedicated family man, Hank attended school board meetings to find out how his children would be educated. When a board member retired, Hank was encouraged to seek election for the position and subsequently filled the vacancy. As Sharon approached high school age, Hank and then Superintendent of Schools Jack McGregor saw the need for a local high school. Until then, Newark students attended Washington High School in Fremont. Hours were spent drafting proposals and a unified school district including a high school was approved. Sharon was in the first graduating class (1966) and received her diploma from her father, Board President Harry Lewis.

Following incorporation in 1955, the early days of the City of Newark were filled with a special sense of pride. Newark's first birthday was celebrated by a parade in which the Lewis family helped build a float - a cake with one candle - on a Jeep frame. Sharon remembers, "My brothers and I tried to keep out of the way, but it was hard." She believes that those early days of watching construction of the float influenced her brother Butch in his ability to rebuild almost anything. Hank served as president of Little League baseball and, at times, was recruited to be an umpire. Things could become complicated when Carleen observed from the snack shack, Sharon served as score keeper and Hank had to make a difficult call when Alan at catcher and Butch at short stop were involved.

Political involvement was inevitable as Hank and Carleen settled into the town they loved. In 1966, he ran for a seat on the Newark City Council using the slogan, "Government with the Peoples Consent" and served until 1974. Hank was mayor from 1968 to 1969 and from 1971 to 1972. In 1972, Hank was a proponent of and present at the signing of the Dumbarton Bridge bill that authorized the construction of a new bridge replacing the old two-lane span.

Following his political career, Hank remained vigilant and often wrote Letters to the Editor to inform and challenge his fellow citizens to maintain the character of Newark. Until his death, Hank worked with his daughter to organize family scrapbooks ensuring continuation of the family's historical memory. His children have continued Hank's legacy of service to the city he loved. Sharon taught kindergarten in Newark for 36 years, Alan served as a Newark police officer working with the K-9 unit and Butch continues to use his special ability to restore order to unruly machinery including Sharon's ancient garage door opener.

Newark and its Newarkness will always include a special place for Harry "Hank" Lewis.

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