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February 16, 2003

Founder of hearing-impaired group dies

From: Charlotte Sun-Herald, FL - 16 Feb 2003

One of the founders of a local hearing-impaired persons advocacy group died Thursday after battling liver problems, almost one year after his wife of 60 years passed away.

But Kenneth Lewis, 82, of Punta Gorda, lived nine years longer than his son Carl said doctors told him he would.

Lewis, who founded the deaf-advocacy group Hearing Impaired Persons in 1989 with a few others, suffered from colon cancer nine years ago and was told he wouldn't make it.

But two doctors saved his life in surgery, giving him nine years of which Carl said his father never wasted a second. A pilot, Lewis even kept flying his plane.

"He loved flying," Carl said Saturday. "He didn't stop until December, when he was 81."

An engineer, Lewis retired from the Department of Defense in 1976 and he and his wife Olive moved to Punta Gorda from College Park, Md., three years later.

For 20 years, he interpreted sermons for the deaf with sign language at the First United Methodist Church in Punta Gorda, and for 13 years he taught sign language at the Cultural Center of Charlotte County.

After starting HIP in 1989, Carol Moyer, HIP's director, said Lewis served on the board for its first seven years until retiring in 1996.

"What we have today is the product of what he began in 1989," Moyer said on Saturday.

Although Lewis was not born deaf himself, his friend of more than 20 years, Joan Andrews, said he had learned sign language to communicate with a neighbor's deaf daughter before he and his wife moved to Florida. Over the past several years, however, his own hearing deteriorated and he wore hearing aids in both ears.

Andrews, a member of Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, said Lewis had also helped her when her own hearing loss began causing problems in the late 1970s.

She said Lewis told her she needed a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, a machine the hearing impaired use to talk on the telephone by typing in words.

"The deaf population of Charlotte County depended on him almost entirely for representation," Andrews said.

She added that Lewis had served as sound technician for SHHH, introducing members to new devices.

"He was very diligent about educating people about hearing loss, and that endeared him to the deaf community," Andrews said.

About 16 years ago, Lewis began helping Janet Walker, a deaf-mute woman with cerebral palsy. In teaching Walker sign language, he gained not only a student but a friend.

"He was very successful in teaching Janet how to handle her own affairs," Moyer said. "She would not have learned how to do that in a regular classroom."

In addition to his work with the deaf, Lewis served with the U.S. Coast Guard, was a scuba rescue diver and in 1956 was listed as one of the Who's Who in engineers.

Lewis is survived by his sons, Glenn of Albuquerque, N.M., Carl of Bowie, Md., and Robert of Houston, Texas; a brother, Robert, of Gulfport, Miss.; nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday at the First United Methodist Church in Punta Gorda.

You can e-mail April Frawley at


Staff Writer

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