Founder Mel Lewis Passes Away

April 18, 2012

YAKIMA - Mel Lewis, prominent local business leader, volunteer and philanthropist died peacefully at home on April 5th, 2012. Mel was born to John (Jack) and Florence Lewis on March 11, 1932 in Post Falls, Idaho. His early years were filled with adventure and fun along the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene and included playing tag with friends on the logs floating in the local millpond. He moved to Yakima at age 12 as his father had accepted a great job offer from Boise Cascade. Mel’s first job was delivering papers to 138 homes before school when he was twelve years old.

Mel attended Franklin Jr. High, Yakima High, Yakima Valley Community College and Central Washington University. He excelled at football and baseball. So much so that he was awarded full-ride sports scholarships to play at both YVCC and CWU throughout his college years.

If you were a classmate of Mel during his YVCC years you would have found him in class, on the sports field/court or at The Freezer Drive-In, where he served as worker and manager for three years. His children often heard the story about their dad working 365 days in a row during those early years of balancing a young family, school, work and athletics. Mel greatly valued and modeled a strong work ethic.

After graduating in 1957 from Central Washington College for Education in Ellensburg (later Central Washington University), Mel continued to manage the famed Freezer Drive-In. Mel took opportunity to join the Equitable Life Insurance Company in 1958. He embraced the challenge and the family moved to Spokane.

Mel returned home to Yakima in early 1959 to join Everett H. Terrill Insurance. He often reflected that it was one of the best decisions he ever made. As he built trusted relationships through the years and the agency grew; Mel would serve as President of the Terrill, Lewis and Wilke Insurance Company from 1969 until his retirement in 2000.

Mel’s optimistic insights about people led him to understand that "once you get to know a person, you are more likely to like them.  People are great." Mel’s "caring philosophy for people" shaped his relationships with the many clients he served, his business associates, political leaders, and casual acquaintances he would pass on the street or meet standing in the grocery store check-out line.

Mel is survived by his wife, Eleanor Lewis of Yakima; his sons and their spouses, Roland Lewis, Rodney and Ellen Lewis both of Yakima, Ron and Connie Lewis of Renton and Scott and Julie Lewis of Seattle; a brother, R.H. "Bob" Lewis (former State Senator) of Olympia; eight grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

Mel married his high school sweetheart, Eleanor Roach, and shortly after Mel turned 80 in March, they were able to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary together. Mel’s family and friends were priorities throughout Mel’s life. The Lewis family was fortunate enough to spend many of their early years at their cabin on Lake Mayfield and with extended family on Lake Coeur d’Alene and more recently at their Cle Elum area home.

Over the years, Mel grew from being a sports participant to a true sports fan. He rarely missed his kid’s games and held season tickets with the University of Washington football program for over 30 years. He was one of the first business leaders to support the Sun Kings basketball team coming to Yakima and was a life-long supporter of Yakima’s youth and youth sports programs. Mel enjoyed golf and even secured the illusive hole-in-one on the par 3-second hole at Fisher Golf Course in 1966. Mel especially found pleasure in sharing all of these experiences with close friends and family. Of all the activity in Mel’s life, relationships were of the highest priority and he shared life’s journey with close companions many of whom he first met during his school days.

Mel lived the Rotary Club motto "Service above Self" through his community leadership and his daily interactions with others. He began as a Rotarian in 1960 and was honored to serve as Downtown Rotary’s President in 1987-88. He also served as President of the Chamber of Commerce, the Monday Morning Quarterbacks Club, and Vice President of the Yakima Valley Community College Foundation; he has served on many other boards and advisory boards including local organizations such as the Salvation Army and the YMCA. In addition to serving on non-profit boards Mel was on the Board of Directors of Heritage Financial Corp., Central Valley Bank, the Osteopathic Foundation and many others. He was selected by peers and colleagues as "Boss of the Year" and as "Fan of the Year" for his support of sports activities at YVCC. In recent years Mel enjoyed his time with friends at Bible Study Fellowship.

Mel intentionally lived a life of love and leadership. His presence as a strong figure in his family, among friends and as a business and community leader will be deeply missed. His family would like to thank his close friends, including the "oatmeal gang," and care givers who have walked so well with him in his courageous and gracious battle with Parkinson’s disease. Mel’s arms were held high by you all, which allowed his natural character of loving people to overflow through laughter and warmth as he showed interest in and care for those caring for him. His life has been a blessing for which we are sincerely grateful.

Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m., Tuesday April 17 at Keith and Keith Ninth Avenue Chapel (509-453-9155). Memorial service will be held at 4:30 p.m., April 18 at the Yakima Convention Center. In lieu of flowers the family would like to invite you to give to the Yakima Valley Community College Foundation for scholarships or an organization of your choice.

To share a memory of Mel visit www.keithandkeith.com.