Neighborhood honors Lewis, a humble hero


September 22, 2002|By Christina Bittner | Christina Bittner,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN MY MIND, heroes are ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things. They don't have to be celebrities or star athletes. On the contrary, there are heroes in every neighborhood.

For example, the parents who work all day and, instead of relaxing, spend their evening hours coaching Little League. Or the parent who doesn't seem to mind when their back yard becomes a magnet playground for every kid on the block. These heroes may never realize the positive impact they can have just by being themselves.

For more than 55 years, Nellie Lewis has been a Brooklyn Park hero. On Tuesday, as she prepared to move back to her West Virginia birthplace, the community joined together to let her know what a special person she is.

In 1954, when Brooklyn Park High School opened its doors, the county did not have the funds for athletic fields. Nellie and her husband, Bob, worked with the Calvert family and other neighborhood homeowners to do the unthinkable. These families had enough faith in the school and in the community to buy land with money from second mortgages and construct a football stadium on Hammonds Lane.

Another Brooklyn Park resident, Woody Bowen, volunteered to do the wiring, and Brooklyn Park became the first high school in the County to play football games at night.

I doubt if anyone today would even consider doing something like that for their community. But if you ask Nellie about it, she will tell you that it wasn't such a big deal. She told me that they didn't think the county would let them lose their homes. To pay off the debt, the football players went door-to-door seeking donations, and the parents sold hot dogs, soda and hot chocolate at every game.

Then there were the times when Nellie and her husband would block traffic so that kids could ride sleds safely through the neighborhood.

"Once I woke up on a Sunday morning and there were 57 sleds in my front yard," Nellie said. "My husband would do anything for the kids. He always used to say that he never saw a bad child, that if you could find a child and help them with their problems there would never be any crime. When he died, kids came to the funeral and cried and said that if it weren't for him they would have ended up different. You'll never find a better man than Bob Lewis."

Nellie also is responsible for the red, white and blue bows on the street signs throughout Olde Brooklyn Park. The bows are there to show support for members of the Armed Forces who are serving overseas. Nellie made every single one of them. Still, she says this isn't anything to get excited about.

"I didn't do any more than anyone else in this neighborhood," she said. "It's just that I've got a bigger mouth and people went along to get me to shut up."

Sorry, Nellie, the community disagrees.

"Nellie will be sorely missed," said Del. Joan Cadden as she presented Nellie with a resolution by the House of Delegates honoring Nellie's contributions, sponsored by herself, Del. Mary Rosso, and Del. John Leopold. She also received a resolution from the County Council that was sponsored by Councilwoman Pamela J. Beidle, and a Senate resolution sponsored by state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno.

The Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts presented Nellie with an autographed opening night poster. And the Brooklyn Park High School Alumni Association crowned her an Honorary Queen Bee.

Nellie was overwhelmed by all the recognition that she received.

"You know, I'm just a Brooklyn Park girl. I don't deserve all this," she said. "People don't realize what a wonderful place Brooklyn Park is. You can be yourself here. People love you for what you are. They will love you in spite of yourself. I'm speechless. If someone handed me a million dollars I couldn't feel any better."

Dancing into decades

Dreamland, the latest production of the Musical Artists Theater will open at the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts, 194 Hammonds Lane, on Friday.

Each act of the play takes place in a different decade at a nightclub called Dreamland. The play features Ruth and Michael Hulett, who portray a different couple in each scene. The Huletts will sing and dance to 30 songs from the 1920s through the 1940s, including such classics as "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "Sentimental Journey," "Papermoon" and "I'll Be Seeing You."

The Musical Artists Theater is a resident company at Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts. The company aims to develop original musicals, showcase contemporary American plays, and perform innovative productions of the classics.

The show will run on weekends through Oct. 6. Performances will take place at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and students, and $8 for members of the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts.

Information: 410-636-6597.

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