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Joseph E. ‘Joe’ Lewis

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Joseph E. “Joe” Lewis was born in 1930 in Sabina, Ohio, to Joseph H. and Ada (Ball) Lewis. He passed away Wednesday, April 17, 2024, after a lengthy illness.

His family often chose to rent out their home in Sabina, while they lived and worked on farms located outside of Sabina. This afforded them the opportunity to pay for their home. They later purchased their own small farm located in Sabina. During World War II, when meat rationing was a reality, they raised and sold chickens. Joe attended the Sabina public schools, where he played the cornet in the high school band and represented the school at Wilmington College in Clinton County Scholastic Competitions in chemistry, biology and American history. A classmate, Rod Tillis, who had recently received his pilot’s license, gave him an airplane ride, which led him to become interested in flying. After graduating from high school in 1949, Lewis worked in a tool factory to raise money to go to college.

The following year, the Korean War started. Joe had been reading about the new radar systems being developed. Even though he had already enrolled at Ohio State University to attend in the fall of 1950, he decided to enlist in the Air Force, which had been established in 1947. Joe scored well on the science and math tests and was placed in a career field of electronics and radar. The Korean War was underway, and Joe was trained as a radar technician in Mississippi. He worked on radar and was sent to school in Mississippi to get training on the Doppler radar system. He experienced racial segregation off base on buses and in theaters. One day as his assignment was ending, he decided that he would ride in the front of a bus, and took a seat behind the bus driver. When his stop came, the driver informed him that he was not supposed to ride up front. He replied, “As long as I’m in uniform and pay twenty-five cents, I’ll sit any damn where I want to ride.” He noted that the driver was upset, but because he was getting off, nothing was done.

Lewis was assigned to an air rescue squadron based in Japan, maintaining radar on planes in Korea and picking up downed airmen with planes with nonworking radar. He would fly to Korea, fix the radar, and return to base in Japan. After a four-year tour, he left the service and returned to the states, where he worked as a civilian for the Air Force, initially at Dayton Air Force Depot, which was aligned with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He worked on radar, radio and test equipment and had an opportunity to obtain training on the new Doppler radar system.

Before entering the service, Joe met Frances Atchison, who had attended school at nearby Leesburg, Ohio, and afterward lived with her parents in Washington Courthouse, where she worked as a surgical technician at Payne Memorial Hospital. They corresponded while he was in the service, and when he returned, they continued their courtship and were married in 1956. They lived for seven years in Dayton, where their three children, Lorraine, Joe and their youngest child, Dianne, were born. The Depot was eventually phased out and Joe’s job was moved to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio. Interested in avoiding a long daily commute from Dayton to Fairborn, and interested in living in the small-town environment in which they both had grown up, the Lewises decided in 1963 to move to Yellow Springs, 12 miles from Wright-Patterson.

As electronic technician jobs at Wright-Patterson opened up, Joe became a specialist on electronic components as part of supplying the needs on the bases across the country, and sometimes outside the country. As the process was mechanized and computerized, the technicians would develop coding sheets related to the parts, as well as replace parts, and these items were input into the first generation of IBM computers for use throughout the Air Force system. Joe was trained for computer programming and system analysis, writing computer programming code, and he became proficient in the area of supply and maintenance. He retired from Wright-Patterson in 1986, and worked for government contractors for approximately eight additional years.

When the Lewises moved to Yellow Springs, they transferred their church membership from Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, in Dayton, to Central Chapel AME Church, in Yellow Springs. Joe Lewis eventually became treasurer of the church, and a Trustee. Under the pastorate of the Rev. Harold Brown, the church began fundraising to build a new church. The new building was completed in 1972. The church grew, and in the late 1900s, under the pastorship of the Rev. John Freeman, an Education and Family Life edition was added, when Lewis had returned to the Trustee Board.

Joe was appointed to a seat on the YS Village Council in 1991 to complete the term of a council member whose new job would have been a conflict with council duties. He was then elected to the Council and remained until 1999, eventually serving as president, and as vice president. During his tenure, the bike path was built in Yellow Springs; Council played a role in ameliorating chemical waste found near the Vernay factory on Dayton Street; and the pending sale of the Whitehall Farm led to a plan to preserve the land as farmland through the Tecumseh Land Trust.

Joe enjoyed his life in retirement until his beloved wife, Frances, was diagnosed with dementia in 2011. Frances later passed away from complications of her disease in 2021. That fall, Joe suffered a stroke on Oct. 19, 2021. He didn’t give up.

While in Friends Care Community nursing care, Joe was recognized Feb. 6, 2024, by the governor of the state of Ohio, Mike DeWine, for his life of military service and public service within his community.

Joe was preceded in death by his daughter Lorraine Mae Wright.

He leaves to cherish his memory, his son, Joseph E. Lewis II (Dianne); daughter, Dianne K. Lewis; brother, William C. “Bill” Lewis; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; his nursing home family; and a host of friends.

A service will be held Monday April 29, 2024, at Central Chapel AME Church, 411 S. High St. Yellow Springs. Ohio. Visitation will be at 10 a.m. until time of the service, which will be at 11:30 a.m., with the Rev DeBora Ducket, pastor of the church, and the Rev. Dr. John E. Freeman, both giving words of comfort. Interment to follow at Sabina Cemetery.

Arrangements entrusted to Johnson Brown Funeral Service.


One Response to “Joseph E. ‘Joe’ Lewis”

  1. Don Hubschman says:

    A rich and full life well lived; condolences to the Lewis family.

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