Left to right, Niagara College Student Administrative Council president Shane Malcolm; Marta Voege, cousin of donor Eva Lewis and Niagara College president Dan Patterson with plans for the Eva M. Lewis Library and Learning Commons at the Welland Campus.
“Thank you, Eva.”
That was the simple message expressed by hundreds of students, faculty and staff who gathered in the Welland Campus Learning Commons today to celebrate the largest personal gift in Niagara College history.
Eva Mary Lewis, a school teacher raised in Welland who had family ties to Niagara College, left $2.6 million to the college when she passed away in 2013 at the age of 99. The contribution will support the Achieving Dreams Campaign, which is raising funds for Niagara College’s Capital Vision campus redevelopment projects, scholarships and bursaries, and equipment and learning resources.
In honour of Lewis’s generosity, the heart of the Welland Campus has been officially named the Eva M. Lewis Library and Learning Commons.
“Eva Lewis was a remarkable individual who was very passionate about the important role that education can play in a person’s life,” said Niagara College president Dan Patterson. “Literally, generations of students will benefit from her remarkable generosity. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate Eva’s legacy than to have the heart of this campus named in her honour.”
Born in Sudbury in 1914, Lewis was a first-generation Canadian whose parents emigrated from Ukraine. As a child she lived in Dain City and she studied to be a seamstress before attending teacher’s college. She began her teaching career in Cornwall, ON, before moving to Toronto, where she taught home economics at Danforth Technical School and Bickford Park School. An avid gardener who travelled extensively, Lewis retired to Port Colborne, where she passed away in 2013.
Marta Voege, Lewis’s cousin, spoke at the event and described Lewis as a compassionate individual with a strong commitment to education.
“We, Eva’s family, are very proud of Eva and her many accomplishments. We especially applaud her generous gifts in support of Niagara College,” said Voege. “It is gratifying to be in this space today and know that Eva’s gift will contribute to making it an even more special ‘hub’ of learning for students. Her family is very proud that this beautiful area is being named: The Eva M. Lewis Library and Learning Commons.”
Lewis’s bequest followed years of generous giving to Niagara College that has already benefitted hundreds of students.
Her contributions to Niagara College began in 2000 when she gave a gift of $294,037 to Niagara College to establish the Ellen and Patricia Lewis Memorial Scholarship in memory of her nieces, both of whom studied at Niagara College, and both of whom passed away relatively early in life due to illness. Three Ellen and Patricia Lewis Memorial Scholarships are awarded annually.
In 2004 Lewis and her sister, Helen, contributed $170,790 – which was matched by the provincial government for a total of $342,112 – to establish the Eva Mary and Helen Katherine Lewis Bursary, through which 15 bursaries are awarded annually. Lewis’s $33,816 contribution to the College’s Building Futures Campaign in 2008 supported the expansion and relocation of the Welland Campus library.
To date, almost 250 students have benefitted from the Lewis scholarships and bursaries.
“This award not only helped me focus on school without stressing or having to work longer hours, but also pushed me to work harder in school,” said Shane McLeod, a second-year student in Niagara College’s Community and Justice Services program. “I am very thankful for Eva Lewis’s generous contribution to Niagara College, and feel it is very important that students recognize the impact donors like her can have on our education. She has made a tremendous impact on my education which I am forever grateful.”
“The value of Eva’s generosity isn’t just the dollar value, but the opportunity and access that it creates for students,” said Niagara College student Administrative Council president Shane Malcolm. “Eva was an ordinary woman doing extraordinary things, and she’s a true testament to what we all can do.”
Click here to watch the announcement.