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Lodi Adopt-A-Child's Dennis Lewis named Citizen of the Year

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Posted: Monday, December 18, 2006 10:00 pm

If it's the Christmas season, Dennis Lewis literally spends some sleepless nights.

In the past few days, he said he also rarely had time to eat, either, because he was busy distributing toys to needy children in Lodi.

Lewis, a retired Lodi police officer, founded the Adopt-A-Child organization 18 years ago, serving 30 children. Now, 1,400 children receive gifts.

For his years of dedicated service to the needy, Lewis was named the William T. Harkins Outstanding Citizen of the Year by the Lodi Chamber of commerce.

Chamber President and CEO Pat Patrick, administration services representative Ray Crow and last year's Citizen of the Year, Frances Reilly, showed up unannounced to the Adopt-A-Child party Saturday at the Lodi Boys and Girls Club and surprised Lewis with the honor.

Lewis, 58, will be officially honored Jan. 30, but chamber officials spilled the beans early because Lewis will be leaving shortly for his home in the mountains near West Point.

"It was an utter and complete astonishment and surprise," Lewis said.

He added that he doesn't really know why the chamber honored him.

"It's the volunteers who do all the work," Lewis said. "I'm just the figurehead."

Patrick wholeheartedly disagreed that Lewis is a figurehead.

"A trait of a good leader is they're humble," Patrick said. "It's one thing that the volunteers do it, but who got the volunteers there? All fingers are going to point back to Dennis."

Lewis founded Adopt-A-Child while he was president of the Lodi Police Officers Association. It remained a police department function for a few years, but it became so big it became a nonprofit organization.

The organization was founded to provide Christmas gifts to Lodi's needy children who may otherwise get nothing from Santa. He also organizes a back-to-school day, where 1,400 children buy $100 worth of clothes at Big Kmart on Cherokee Lane.

He got the idea for helping the needy first in Vietnam, then in Lodi's Eastside. As a Marine in Vietnam, Lewis said he saw children go through Americans' garbage to look for food, clothing and toys that had been thrown away.

Later as a police officer in Lodi, Lewis saw children go through Dumpsters to find toys and food.

If Lewis isn't giving toys and clothes away, he's busy raising money to do just that.

He has spent most every day at the Adopt-A-Child headquarters on East Pine Street since early December, getting ready to give presents to 1,400 children.

His down time isn't spent getting away from it all and relaxing, Lewis said. It's spent writing thank-you letters to contributors, preparing the organization's budget for the following year and preparing for fund-raisers to pay on the clothes and toys. And next year, he wants to help raise enough money to put a new roof for one side of the Boys and Girls Club building.

"I come down here (to Lodi) two or three days a week," Lewis said.

Except for December, when he's in the office most of the month.

"Some of us haven't eaten in two days," Lewis said while relaxing at his desk Sunday afternoon.

That's because he had to meet the Saturday deadline to get gifts out to the children, most of whom speak English while their parents speak only Spanish.

Lewis served in the police departments in the small Humboldt County community of Rio Dell and then in Newark before coming to the Lodi Police Department in 1971. He retired in November 2005.

In addition to being named the chamber's Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Lewis has received a host of other honors, including the Lodi Boys and Girls Club's Hall of Fame Award, Lodi Police Department's Meritorious Service Award in 1996, the Mayor's Community Service Award given by Susan Hitchcock in 2003 and the Award of Distinction by the California Peace Officers Association. He received the Governor's Distinguished Service Award in 2002 from Rotary District 5220.

He and his wife, Dee Bassett, have a son, James. Lewis also has two stepsons, Aaron and Adam. They have no grandchildren.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

Previous Citizens of the Year

1955 â€" James E. Conklin
1956 â€" L.K. Marshall
1957 â€" R. Gordon Mitchell, H.D. Weller
1958 â€" Ida Rinn
1959 â€" Herman L. Diekman
1960 â€" William C. Micke, Alice Towne
1961 â€" Amy L. Boynton
1962 â€" No Recipient
1963 â€" Elbert A. Covell
1964 â€" No Recipient
1965 â€" William T. Harkins
1966 â€" No Recipient
1967 â€" Fred Brown
1968 â€" Bozant "Bo" Katzakian
1969 â€" Bill Lange
1970 â€" Ben Schaffer
1971 â€" William Coffield
1972 â€" Jerald Kirsten
1973 â€" Robert H. Rinn
1974 â€" Fred E. Weybret
1975 â€" A.A. Cristofani
1976 â€" Vivian M. Hughes
1977 â€" Ivan Suess
1978 â€" William G. Holz
1979 â€" Lillian E. Maib
1980 â€" Frank Johnston Jr.
1981 â€" Robert Mullen
1982 â€" Ezra M. Ehrhardt
1983 â€" James Culbertson
1984 â€" Edna Smith
1985 â€" Kenneth Boyd
1986 â€" Henry Okazaki
1987 â€" Gwinnett Mitchell
1988 â€" Ed DeBenedetti
1989 â€" Eleanor Todd
1990 â€" Dave Vaccarezza
1991 â€" Peter Hetzner
1992 â€" Harry Schumacher
1993 â€" Robert Hunnell
1994 â€" Evelyn Olson
1995 â€" Ole Mettler
1996 â€" Walter Howen
1997 â€" Frank Sasaki
1998 â€" Janice Roth
1999 â€" Dorean and Walt Rice
2000 â€" Theo Vandenberg
2001 â€" Don Phillips
2002 â€" Naomi Carey
2003 â€" Sarah Heberle
2004 â€" Walter Reiss
2005 â€" Frances Reilly
Source: Lodi Chamber of Commerce

First published: Tuesday, December 19, 2006

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