This is the story of Frank J. Lewis and the founding of Lewis University.
There is a saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” The same idea applies to universities and in particular, our very own Lewis University.
Recently Kurt Schackmuth, director of First Year Experience, gave a presentation about the beginnings of Lewis University, strongly focusing on namesake, Frank J. Lewis.
Lewis was born on April 9, 1867 to William F. Lewis and Ellen Ford. He is known as an industrialist, philanthropist, and of course, founder. During his early years, Lewis wanted to be a doctor. These plans changed when his father died and he had to work to support his mother and nine brothers.
Lewis went to live with his uncle in Nebraska and developed an interest in business. His uncle owned a roofing company, and Lewis started his own similar business in Chicago. Before coming back to the city, he married Alberta Dilley and had six children.
Lewis was a competent businessman, and he worked alongside his employees. His friends described him as having a “terrific driving energy.” In the 1920s, his business thrived, and he developed a real estate business with his son John. Unfortunately, tragedy struck in 1923 when his wife Alberta died. Lewis retired from business affairs in 1927 at age 60, but he was still greatly involved with activities that gave back to the community. In 1928, he married Julia Deal.
Lewis was also one of the most prominent and Charitable Catholics at the time. He was well known in the Chicago Archdiocese and was friends with Cardinal Mundeline and Bishop Sheil. Lewis was a good steward to those who were in need, but also felt that able-bodied men and women should stand on their own two feet.
The Archdiocese of Chicago had received a donation of land, 170 acres from the Fitzpartick family and decided to use the land for to build a technical high school for boys whose parents could no longer afford to send them to school. There would be scholarships for all students, and they had to be nominated to attend Holy Name Technical School. Lewis provided money for the scholarships as well as salvaged building materials for the buildings. Groundbreaking took place on Feb. 2nd, 1931 and the dedication was May 30th, 1932. Lewis continued to be a huge supporter and contributor to the school. In 1934, the institution was renamed Lewis Holy Name Technical School. Every name change after that used Lewis’ name.
In 1948, due to a boom in the number of students, the institution officially became a college. The first coed class graduated in 1952, and Lewis was present for the ceremony.
Frank J. Lewis died in 1960 at the age of 93. His name and values live on and not just here at Lewis University. DePaul, Notre Dame, Loyola, and Dominican all have ties to Lewis. (We are the only institution that bears his name.) The Lewis family lives in Florida now and runs a foundation in Lewis’ name.
With his bold plans and a generous heart, Frank J. Lewis was a great influence and helped make this university what it is today.