By ROBERT MILLER
SEBRING — Lois Lewis of Sebring was awarded the 2018 Volunteer of the Year at the Highlands News-Sun Highlander awards banquet held at Seven Sebring Raceway Hotel in July. The award was sponsored by The Palms of Sebring.
For Lewis, being named Volunteer of the Year was more than just an honor. “It was an honor I did not expect and I was very proud if it,” she said.
Lewis has been working with Good Shepherd Hospice for 11 years and will continue to work with Good Shepherd as long as she can. She has made plans for everything she owns to go to Good Shepherd when she passes. “When I do pass, Hospice will take care of me,” Lewis said.
She started working with Good Shepherd in order to give back what they did for her. “They took care of my second, third and fifth husbands,” Lewis said.
Lewis’ fifth husband, John Gill, wasn’t able to join Lewis at the Highlander awards banquet due to illness. “The night of the awards dinner was one of the hardest nights I had because he was supposed to be there,” she said.
Gill passed away just two days later. The couple had been married back in December 2018. Gill spent 35 years in the Coast Guard. His medals are being donated to the Military Sea Services Museum in Sebring.
Lewis was a nurse herself for nearly 40 years. The New Jersey native began her nursing career as a kid, volunteering to help kids with cerebral palsy. She went on to get married and have a daughter of her own.
Lewis, for a time, moved to Pennsylvania where her daughter graduated high school and Lewis celebrated her 50th birthday. That was when she moved to Florida, where she has been for the last 30 years. “Technically, I retired,” Lewis said.
Lewis has worked as an emergency room nurse, worked on the heart floor, pediatrics and the last 15 years of her nursing career were in geriatrics. “I think I enjoyed that the most,” Lewis said.
Even retired, she still felt the calling to help others, especially those who couldn’t help themselves, especially the elderly. Lewis saw families taking their elderly to nursing homes or hospice, leaving them there and never coming back. This saddened her and she wanted to help them, to make a difference. “It hurt to see this,” she said.
She’s seen a lot over the years but the thing that bothers her the most is to see friends of hers, younger than her, end up in hospice. “Hospice means more to me than anything else at this point,” Lewis said.
Along with nursing, Lewis also worked for Weight Watchers for 46 years. Although she retired from Weight Watchers in 2008, she still finds time to attend meetings in Avon Park. “I just love to give,” Lewis said.
Despite nursing and helping the elderly being her passion, she understands that there is a time and place to have fun and enjoy life. She’s been skydiving twice. Once when she was 70 and again when she turned 75. Lewis said she is no longer afraid of heights. She describes the feeling she got jumping from the plane as “like being close to God and my third husband.”
Also on her list of things to do is returning to Israel for the last time. “I feel safer there than here,” Lewis said.
She had already booked a trip for herself and her husband to go on her 80th birthday. She still plans to visit the country. Not only does Israel hold religious significance to Lewis’ Jewish beliefs, but she was able to spread some of her third husband’s ashes there in 2010. It had been his dream to make it to Israel.
Lewis remembers fondly the four months back in 2010 that she helped a woman in hospice, Frances Heller. Lewis and Heller, 95, met at The Palms. Almost immediately Lewis made the decision to help Heller. Lewis moved Heller into her home and took care of the older woman night and day for nearly four months until she passed that December.
Lewis makes red, white and blue lap pads for the veterans at Good Shepherd, nearly 250 so far. She proudly displays the awards she was given when she made 100 then again for 200. But it’s not the awards that matter to Lewis. “That doesn’t mean anything. That’s what I do. Makes you feel good.”