Waterloo Man to Receive Welles Award at Celebrate Commemorate

May 24, Jim Lewis will receive the Welles Award from the Waterloo Library and Historical Society at Celebrate Commemorate. The Welles Award will be presented at a wine and cheese reception beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, May 24 at the Library and Historical Society on East Williams Street. Lewis also will be honored in the Celebrate Commemorate parade that begins at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 25.

The Welles Award is named for Henry Welles, the druggist who played a major role in organizing the first Memorial Day observance in Waterloo in 1866. It recognizes a resident of Waterloo who, through his efforts and time, has made the village a better place to live, work, worship and enjoy.

“Jim is a most worthy recipient of the Welles Award,” said Library and Historical Society trustee Peter Houghton. “He is a long time resident of the Waterloo community who has worked behind the scenes with many organizations and had the commitment, dedication and desire to give of himself for the betterment of Waterloo and the surrounding area. “

Why Jim Lewis was chosen:

When Jim Lewis returned to Waterloo after his service in Korea, there was no welcome home parade, no ceremony. He set about to change that.  When Waterloo was recognized as the Birthplace of Memorial Day in 1966, Lewis served as the Memorial Day Parade chairman and continued in that post for the next 40 years! 

But that’s not all Lewis has done to make Waterloo a better place for his Brothers in Arms, and for everyone else.  He fought to retain the Canandaigua Veterans Administration hospital, established the local chapter of Korean War Veterans Association, served on the Waterloo Board of Education and has been honored for his work with Boy Scouts.

Jim Lewis's Local Backround:

Born in 1927, Lewis left high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army at the end of World War II. He was placed in the 12th Calvary Regiment of the 1st Calvary Division and assigned to occupation duty in Japan. Discharged from the Army in February, 1948, Lewis came home to central New York. 

Permanent employment in the Finger Lakes Region was difficult to find because of the thousands of area veterans returning home after the war. Lewis found employment as a ward attendant at Willard State Hospital. Although he was only at Willard for six months, two events took place during that time that affected his life. First, he met Betty Lohr, who also was working at Willard. They were married at Christ Church in Willard, New York on August 21, 1949. Second, he joined the 343rd General Hospital Army Reserve Unit attached to Willard State Hospital.

Lewis left Willard for a job in the Geneva office of the New York Telephone Company. He worked first on a line gang and then became an installation technician. He remained a member of the 343rd General Hospital Reserve unit, and on September 3, 1950, that unit was re-called to active duty with the outbreak of the Korean War. Jim was sent back to Japan with the 343rd  Unit and worked in several base hospitals as a medical technician treating wounded servicemen that were flown into Japan from Korea. He was discharged from this second tour of duty in February 1952, and returned to his job with the New York Telephone Company.

Lewis remained with New York Telephone for 30 years doing installation work throughout much of New York State  and New England. In 1981, he chose to go with the AT&T System and worked another 5 years in the communications industry. He retired from his telephone career in 1986.

Retirement gave Lewis more time for his volunteer work and activities with area veteran's organizations. He is the Director of the Seneca County Veterans Service Agency, a member of American Legion Post 435 and past Commander of the Waterloo Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 6433. Lewis helps every Memorial Day with the military observances at Lafayette Park and the local cemeteries.

 He served a term as President of the New York State Korean War Veterans. Lewis currently serves on the Finger Lakes Veterans Advisory Board for the Canandaigua VA Hospital and is also an Advisory Board member for the Sampson Veterans Cemetery.

He is a long time member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church and has served on the Vestry several times.  He was active with the Waterloo Little League Baseball program, having served not only as a coach, manager and player agent, but also on the Little League Board of Directors and as President of that Board. He was involved in two other local sport activities as a meet referee for the Wayne- Finger Lakes Track and Field Officials Association and as a basketball referee at the public school and community college level.

One activity that Jim is quietly proud of is his long association with the Boy Scout program. Jim became a member of Clifton Springs Scout Troop 59 in 1939. In the 1970's, he was Scoutmaster of Waterloo Troop 74. He served on the Executive Board of the Five County Finger Lakes Scout Council. He was awarded the prestigious Boy Scout Silver Beaver Award, Scouting’s highest volunteer award. The award honors those who implement the Scouting program and perform community service through hard work, self sacrifice, dedication, and many years of service.

Betty Lewis died in 2008. The Lewises had one son, Thomas James Lewis, III who lives in Newark, New York. and four grandchildren.

The 14th annual Celebrate Commemorate event will be held May 24-27 in Waterloo, the Birthplace of Memorial Day. For more information about the events, go to www.waterloony.com.

The 147th consecutive commemoration of Memorial Day will be on Thursday, May 30. It will include prayer services, and the official Memorial Day parade at 6 pm.

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