November 03, 2008

Scholarships pay tribute to John, Elizabeth Lewis

by Emily Britton

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A local family’s legacy will live on at Southern Illinois University Carbondale with the help of two scholarships established through the Southern Illinois University Foundation.

The scholarships, named for John and Elizabeth Lewis, demonstrate the couple’s connections to SIU. The John S. Lewis Scholarship will benefit the University’s Medical/Dental Education Preparatory (MEDPREP) program, while the Elizabeth Lewis Memorial Scholarship will be administered through the SIU Alumni Association.

Rickey N. McCurry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement and chief executive officer of the SIU Foundation, says, “These scholarships are a fitting tribute to the lives of John and Elizabeth Lewis. Each scholarship demonstrates the couple’s devotion to Southern and the southern Illinois community. John S. Lewis’ scholarship will help students in need follow in his legendary footsteps, and Elizabeth Lewis’ scholarship will continue her history of service to the Alumni Association.”

John’s connection to Carbondale’s medical community dates back to the 1900s, when his father, Roscoe Lewis, began practicing medicine in his home. Holden Hospital, Roscoe’s home practice and one of the area’s first health care providers, later became the site of John Lewis’ first medical practice.

John began his pre-medical training at St. Louis University, but he was forced to return to southern Illinois after receiving severe injuries in a car accident. He finished his studies at Southern, where special courses were designed specifically to help him train for medical school.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas Medical School, John and his wife, Elizabeth, returned to Carbondale to begin his practice. He was subsequently drafted into World War II.

“Before the war, my father, Dr. J. W. Barrow, Dr. Leo Brown and Dr. John B. Taylor, talked about starting their own clinic, similar to Mayo clinic,” says Elizabeth Kamm, daughter of John and Elizabeth Lewis. “When they came back, the idea was fresh in their minds and they decided to proceed with it.”

The doctors began the endeavor by purchasing the former Herrin Hospital in 1946 and later built Doctor’s Hospital on the present site of Memorial Hospital of Carbondale. The non-profit corporation, called Southern Illinois Hospital Services Corp., was later joined by its for-profit counterpart, Carbondale Clinic.

“These doctors had very high aspirations,” Kamm says. “They really wanted there to be good medical care in southern Illinois.”

After John died in 1964, at the young age of 54, his wife carried on his commitment to the Carbondale community.

Shortly after his death, the Carbondale Elementary School District board voted to rename the school the John S. Lewis School and two years after her husband passed, Elizabeth began developing a large portion of the family’s land, naming it Lewis Park Meadows.

Elizabeth also made sure to show the couple’s appreciation to the school that helped launch his career. In 1975, she established a loan fund for students at the SIU School of Medicine. With the additional funding provided by the couple’s six children, the loan fund was recently turned into a scholarship.

“I would like to thank Elizabeth Kamm and the family of John S. Lewis for the John S. Lewis Scholarship endowment,” says Harold R. Bardo, director of the MEDPREP program. “The recipients of the John S. Lewis award will undoubtedly benefit, especially during these trying economic times. I am certain Dr. Lewis would be pleased that he played a part in helping many first-generation university students realize their dreams of becoming physicians.”

The John S. Lewis Scholarship will be awarded annually to a student who has been accepted into the MEDPREP program, with an overall bachelor’s degree GPA of 3.0 or higher. Preference will be given to students from southern Illinois.

Elizabeth also had a personal connection to Southern. She was a graduate of Southern Illinois Normal University and dedicated over a decade of her life to the Alumni Association. She received the Alumni Achievement Award in 1963 for her commitment to the association and the University. She began serving as the secretary of the association’s board of directors in 1949 and retired 14 years later.

"The Lewis family is highly regarded for their dedication to SIU and Southern Illinois. The SIU Alumni Association is proud to continue the legacy of the Lewis family by awarding the Elizabeth Lewis Scholarship to deserving SIU students," said Randy Ragan, president of the SIU Alumni Association.

The Elizabeth Lewis Memorial Scholarship will be administered by the Alumni Association’s Jackson County Alumni Chapter. The scholarship will be awarded to a current SIU student with junior standing or a transfer student from John A. Logan College. Preference will be given to an applicant with a family member who is a member of the Alumni Association.

Kamm believes the scholarships would make her parents proud and hopes her family’s donation will continue the Lewis’ dedication to education, SIU and Carbondale.

“We were raised to appreciate education, art, life and other people. What is important is our young people and the future of our world,” Kamm says. “I wanted to touch the future and I want all children to have an opportunity for an education.”