Coatesville activist lauded for mirroring maverick female industrialist
A Coatesville community leader has been chosen as the recipient of the Seventh Annual Rebecca Lukens Award.
Established by the Graystone Society’s National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum to honor individuals who exhibit the qualities of Rebecca Lukens, the annual award will be presented to Regina Horton Lewis at a reception on March 21, Lukens’ 219th birthday.
Lukens was a pioneering female industrialist who took over the rolling mill that became Lukens Steel after her husband’s death in the early 1800s and turned it into a flourishing business that dominated life in Coatesville for over two centuries.
James D. Ziegler, the Graystone Society’s executive director, called Lewis “a stellar choice” for the award. “Her effervescence, her passion, and her love for the city of Coatesville mirror Rebecca’s own ambitions for Coatesville,” he said in a Tuesday news release. “Like Rebecca before her, her community and the people within it are all important to her. Both women exemplified how strong convictions and deep roots are the building blocks for change.”
The release gave this account of Lewis’s history: Born on the seventh day of the 11th month in 1947, good fortune seemed to follow young Regina Horton wherever she went, despite the obstacles of growing up as a young African American female during the turbulent ‘50s and ‘60s. Born and raised in West Chester, she described a tight-knit community.
“Things were segregated then, so our community had to take care of itself. I attended an all-black school called The Gay Street School. The Borough Hall is now located on the site, at the corner of Franklin and Gay Streets,” she said.
Her parents, “the beacons of light in an often-challenging world,” taught her the importance of doing community work and the value of education. “By the time I attended Brandywine Junior College (now Widener University), I was going to work during the day, raising two young children, and trying to get my degree, all at the same time,” she said.
Lewis ended up spending 25 years in the corporate environment, working for companies that included IBM, National Liberty and Prudential, but she never forgot “the importance of community and the need to give back.” When she retired from the corporate world in 1994, she joined the Coatesville Area Partners for Progress (CAPP), a group of business leaders who focused on the revitalization of Coatesville.
She said that even though she grew up in West Chester, “Coatesville became near and dear to my heart. I fostered children from Coatesville. And when you have a child in your home, you get a unique perspective on Coatesville through their eyes. Between that and working at the grassroots level for CAPP from 1994 to 1998, I fell in love with Coatesville,” she said.
Coatesville had made such a deep impression on Lewis that after her divorce, she moved into the city. “It was 1996,” she said, “and I wanted a fresh start … I bought a house on Stirling Street. It was in the heart of the city. It was a safe and comfortable neighborhood. It was a house with a history … I knew that Coatesville was a diamond in the rough. It was a beleaguered city, but I wanted to be part of the turn-around!”
But another love would lure her away from her adopted city, if only by a few miles. When she married her husband, Harry Lewis – a former principal of CASH and Coatesville icon himself – he convinced her to move into his family home of many years in Thorndale. Neither have cut their ties to Coatesville, though.
Among many activities, Harry Lewis chairs the board of the Brandywine Health Foundation, which is working to improve the quality of life in the Coatesville area, and Regina Horton Lewis serves as executive director of Chester County Community Dental, a Coatesville-based nonprofit offering low-cost dental health care and education.
One thing Regina Lewis is still working to surmount is “a divide between black and white and the haves and the have-nots” in Coatesville. “We’ve worked hard to overcome this and bring this community together,” she said. “We will not stop until we have fully achieved that goal.”
The Rebecca Lukens Award will be presented to Lewis at a reception at the Coatesville Country Club, on March 21 from 5 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $50, and reservations are required. Also on display that night will be selected works from the Klaus Guido Grutzka Art Collection, now part of the collection of The National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum.
The Graystone Society, which was created in 1984 to help preserve the city’s historic architecture, also assists with municipal improvement and economic development through preservation. The Graystone Society is named for the Graystone Mansion, part of The Lukens National Historic District, which is the home of The National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum. One focal point of the museum is the 500 tons of World Trade Center steel “trees” originally manufactured at Lukens Steel in the late 1960′s. For event information and reservations for the award reception, please contact The Graystone Society at 610-384-9282 or firstname.lastname@example.org.