Scholarship benefit exudes Coatesville power

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All-star cast delivers can-do message to appreciative crowd

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

Diana Robinson Lewis checks in with her mother, Doris Spann (right), and her aunt, before the program.

Diana Robinson Lewis checks in with her mother, Doris Spann (right), and her aunt, Elsie Spann (left), before the start of the program.

She rubbed elbows in a meat locker with Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky,” received mentoring from Regis Philbin in Hollywood, hobnobbed with Oprah on prime-time, got tennis instruction from Venus Williams, and earned a passel of journalism and humanitarian awards for her decades-long stint as a news anchor and community activist in Detroit.

But Diana Robinson Lewis said her favorite audience was the one she faced Thursday night at the Gateway Church in Parkesburg: her friends and relatives in Coatesville.

The longtime broadcaster, whose TV career began at Channel 6, said she credits her success to the family ties she continues to hold dear. Heading an all-star cast, Lewis delivered the keynote address at the Harry Lewis Jr. Scholarship benefit, an award named after another Coatesville success story, her brother-in-law, a longtime educator and activist.

Scarlett Patton (left) poses with her proud mother, Wendy Patton, after the 19-year-old addressed an appreciative crowd.

Scarlett Patton (left) poses with her proud mother, Wendy Patton, after the 19-year-old addressed an appreciative crowd.

James H. Manning Jr., vice chairman of the board of the Brandywine Health Foundation opened the program by explaining the foundation’s commitment to fostering positive growth in the lives of Coatesville-area youth. Then he introduced an ambassador for the kind of change the foundation espouses.

Scarlett Patton, 19, the first recipient of the Harry Lewis Jr. scholarship, confidently told the crowd of nearly 300 that the $5,000-a-year award enabled her to attend Delaware County Community College, becoming the first person in her family to attend college. She said she plans to complete two years and transfer to West Chester University where she will pursue a teaching degree.

“Without this [scholarship], I wouldn’t have the chance to follow my dream,” she said, adding, “this is pretty overwhelming.”

The scholarship, established by the Brandywine Health Foundation’s board of directors in the fall of 2011, will be awarded each year to a deserving student. Recipients of the scholarship, whose funding is independent of the foundation, are selected for their demonstrated “commitment to improving the quality of life in the greater Coatesville community.”

Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como said he had no doubt Patton would succeed, given her “red and black” background as a CASH grad. He said statistics belie the district’s college admission rate. Many students can’t afford higher education right after high school; however, about 80 percent get there eventually. Even more impressive, thanks to their resolve and tenacity, they seldom drop out, he said.

Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como speaks to the crowd at the Harry Lewis Jr. Scholarship benefit.

Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como speaks to the crowd at the Harry Lewis Jr. Scholarship benefit.

Continuing the high-energy theme of Coatesville pride and the Lewis dynasty, Regina Horton Lewis, Harry Lewis’s wife – recently selected to receive the 2013 Rebecca Lukens Award – introduced her sister-in-law, pointing out that both of her relatives have always been “passionate about education.”

Regina Lewis explained that listing all of her sister-in-law’s achievements would take too much time. Instead, she limited herself to the past decade, beginning a litany that included the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Television Arts and Sciences, the “Heart of HAVEN” award for over 20 years of service to domestic-violence victims, and induction into the Michigan Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

“She used her anchor chair to educate,” Regina Lewis said, pointing out that when Glenda, one of Diana Lewis’s two daughters, joined WXYZ in Detroit, they became the only mother-daughter anchor team in America. “She informed. She taught. She inspired,” Regina Lewis said.

“I am overjoyed and overwhelmed and excited about returning home tonight to this wonderful event,” Diana Robinson Lewis exclaimed as she took the stage. “This is the first time I think I know everyone,” she said as she surveyed the audience. “I love this feeling, the feeling of family.”

Harry Lewis Jr. accepts congratulations after an inspiring program to benefit the scholarship named in his honor.

Harry Lewis Jr. accepts congratulations after an inspiring program to benefit the scholarship named in his honor.

Then, she used those connections to regale the crowd with lively anecdotes about her upbringing, explaining how different relatives imparted lasting lessons in courage, integrity and perseverance, instilling her with confidence.  “I recall saying, ‘Oh, yes I can,’” she said.

And even though she left Coatesville in 1974, it never left her. She even took part of it with her: her husband, Glenn Lewis, an Emmy Award-winning editor. Married for almost 40 years, he’s “the love of my life – a Coatesville man,” she said proudly.

The couple spent several years living and working in Los Angeles before moving to Detroit, but the distance never stopped her from calling her brother and her mother in Coatesville daily. “It’s made a difference in my life,” she said, expressing gratitude for their invaluable support.

She ended her presentation by playing a celebrity-laden video tribute she received from her Detroit colleagues when she retired in October after 35 years, and she urged the audience to support education, which in turn bolsters the community. She vowed that she will continue her activism – as well as her favorite “feel-good exercise: dance.” Is she destined for a certain star-studded TV dance show? It may be in the works, she said.

Pete Mango, who runs Signal 88 Security of Octorara with his wife, Jeannette Mango, said they didn’t hesitate to support the fund-raiser.  “As a retired police chief from the Coatesville area, I understand the importance of getting Coatesville’s kids headed in the right direction,” he said. “It’s easier to sail a large ship straight than to have to make constant course corrections.”

 

 

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Tags: 2013 Rebecca Lukens Award, Brandywine Health Foundation, CASH, coatesville, Coatesville Area School District Superintendent Richard Como, Diana Robinson Lewis, Harry Lewis, Harry Lewis Jr. Scholarship, James H. Manning Jr., National Association of Television Arts and Sciences, Pete Mango, Regina Horton Lewis, Scarlett Patton, Signal 88 Security of Octorara

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