The family of the late David Lewis, a former longtime board member and supporter of Starr King School for the Ministry, has presented the school with a bequest of $2 million to fund the David and Norma Lewis Scholarship Fund.
As more and more students incur severe student loan debt in order to pursue the call to progressive religious leadership, the David and Norma Lewis Scholarship will help students for years to come receive the education they will need to do this important work in the world. David’s gift of $2 million will become an endowed fund that is dedicated to providing full scholarships for students at Starr King. Once enacted, $100,000 will be available per year for student scholarships. David’s children, Kristi, David, and Laura, have given an additional $20,000 to kick start the program in the coming academic year as the endowment grows.
“David Lewis was an ally before the word became fashionable. He believed in Starr King School, the counter-oppressive ways we teach, and the religious leaders we help form,” said president of Starr King, The Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt. “Thanks to the generosity of the Lewis family, even more students will benefit from a Starr King education, and the ministers they become will bless our world.”
David Lewis was born on August 9, 1925 in a small town in Ohio. His father and grandfather were long-time Unitarians, but the nearest Unitarian congregation was 45 miles away from his childhood home so David did not encounter Unitarian Universalism until later in life. David became an active Unitarian Universalist in 1974, the same year he married Norma at the First Unitarian Church in St. Louis.
David served as an officer in the US Navy during World War II, and studied at Yale and Washington University to receive his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. He later built a very successful business called Welder & Industrial Services, which sold welding supplies and industrial gas.
In 1981, David retired and he and Norma moved from St. Louis to Carmel, California. David and Norma’s former minister and friend, The Rev. Earl Holt, recalled that as the couple left St. Louis, they decided to give three gifts to the city, one of which went to their UU congregation. This gift became the First Unitarian Church in St. Louis’s endowed Lewis Ministerial Internship program, which has brought several dozen interns to the congregation, many of whom from Starr King.
In retirement, Norma focused her energy on her work as a sculptor. Meanwhile, David studied at Starr King from 1984 to 1985. During his year of study, he took many of the classes required to become a minister, but realized that is true calling was to be an active lay leader and supporter of institutions building a better world. His daughter Kristi recalled how during the week, while Norma focused on sculpting, David took classes at Starr King and every weekend the couple would reunite and share everything they had learned during the week. David later served as co-chair of Starr King’s first capital campaign, member of the Board of Trustees, advisor to the school’s Centennial Campaign, and co-chair of the search committee that selected our beloved provost, Dr. Ibrahim Farajaje, to teach at Starr King.
But beyond serving the school in big ways, David also found ways of supporting the school from his own spiritual community. During their time in Carmel, David and Norma hosted an annual pancake breakfast at the UU Congregation in Monterey Peninsula to raise money for Starr King and get others interested and invested in the school.
David and Norma lived their lives to the absolute fullest. David walked his talk and worked hard to bring people together. He was committed to economic justice and built a business that cared for and supported its employees. “He really cared about people,” Kristi described. “Not just his family or his own community – he cared about everyone and about the world.”
David and Norma were committed to giving back as generously as they could in their life and beyond, including to the UUA, UUSC, UUCMP, and Starr King. “Our father’s spirit of generosity stemmed from his sense of ethics and justice,” his three children described.
In fact, around 1955, David wrote on a yellow pad, with no date and no title, the values and ethics that he committed to live his life by and build his business around. “I believe real human needs are best met by giving rather than receiving. I believe the fact is that it is impossible to give away more than you receive,” David wrote. “I believe that the most exciting experience open to a person in this life is the opportunity to help build people.”
One of David’s core values and commitments was to education. In that same document, David wrote, “I believe that the really learned man knows that education is not a destination but a continuing journey.” Throughout his life he gave his time, talent and treasure to Starr King, and this final gift is just one more example of the legacy of giving that David Lewis leaves behind.
“There is no better memorial to Dave and Norma Lewis,” his children wrote, “than to offer assistance to students to pursue their dream of an education which allows them to work for social and economic justice – to counter oppressions and create just communities.”
“The legacy of David and Norma Lewis at Starr King is a legacy of abiding commitment to the full-humanity of us all,” said former president of Starr King, The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker. “May David and Norma’s spirit and their abiding commitments to spirituality, the arts and justice continue to shape the life and spirit of the school!”
As the endowment grows over the next year, we will let you know about how interested students can apply for the David and Norma Lewis Scholarship.
The family of David Lewis wish to recognize and thank the Community Foundation for Southern Arizona for helping to make this gift possible.
For more information on how you can help students pursue their calls to religious leadership through a gift to Starr King, please visit https://www.sksm.edu/giving/.
Starr King School for the Ministry