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Meet Your Neighbor: Mayoral recognitions aside, Dona Lewis cites group effort in community service

March 2nd, 2014 9:08 pm by Max Hrenda

Meet Your Neighbor: Mayoral recognitions aside, Dona Lewis cites group effort in community service

Dona Lewis and her husband, Chuck, have operated Franklin House Bed & Breakfast in historic Jonesborough since 1997. (Max Hrenda/Johnson City Press)

It might be safe to say that most people don’t know how it feels to be honored by their mayors for service to their community.

As of Feb. 10, Jonesborough resident Dona Lewis received that particular distinction for the second time — in the second state she has called home.

On that day, during a meeting of the Jonesborough Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Mayor Kelly Wolfe presented Lewis with a proclamation that both honored her community service, and established Dona Lewis Appreciation Day, which ran concurrently with Valentine’s Day.

Almost 20 years ago, however, Lewis received a similar commendation from then-Mayor Jim McGreevey of Woodbridge Township, N.J., the last place she lived before moving to Jonesborough.

Though her local leaders seem to think she has a penchant for public service, when asked about those recognitions, Lewis said she is one of many striving to make her community a better place.

“I feel humbled by it, but, at the same token, I don’t do it on my own,” Lewis said. “It takes a village to do this stuff. Nobody does it all on their own.”

Among the activities associated with that “stuff” include her membership in the Jonesborough Area Merchants and Service Association and Friends of the Library, as well as her role in the creation of some of the town’s more popular events, such as the Taste of Jonesborough, the post-Christmas parade Turkey Toss, the Souper Bowl — a soup and stew luncheon — and volunteering during the Storytelling Festival.

Although the list of her affiliations and activities goes on, Lewis is reluctant to take full credit for the accomplishments of those groups.

“We’re all together,” Lewis said. “That’s why I hate to be singled out. There’s always someone helping me.”

Even though her mayor from Woodbridge Township gave her recognition for her work in the community, as well, Lewis said she was lucky to be surrounded by others in the community who care, as well.

After living in Woodbridge Township for nearly 28 years, in 1995, Lewis and her husband, Chuck, relocated to Jonesborough after frequently visiting the area for more than 14 years.

“My brother (Jeff Dupre) and his partner used to run the restaurant Dogwood Lane,” Lewis said. “My brother had already introduced us to a lot of different people. By the time we moved here, we already had a circle of friends.”

She and her husband purchased a house in the historic district, at 116 Franklin Ave., and, after two years of renovation, converted the home into their own bed-and-breakfast, known as Franklin House, which they operate to this day.

Operating that business may play a role in how she approaches her volunteer efforts. While working in hospitality, Lewis said she gained some insight as to why people from all over the globe come to visit Jonesborough.

“People come to this town because it’s the oldest town in Tennessee,” Lewis said. “But they also know that these little towns usually have so much to offer as far as shops, boutiques, and craft stores. I want to see that continue.”

With that in mind, Lewis has thrust herself into the forefront of Jonesborough’s community efforts, in the hopes that those local businesses will thrive. Though she said she wasn’t involved in its organization, she was among the first to join JAMSA in an effort to perpetuate those existing businesses.

“We need the people who put their whole lives into their businesses to flourish, to make money, and to stay in business,” Lewis said. “I don’t want to see another vacant building downtown. It’s really sad to see that.”

While the sight of an empty building makes her sad, working through JAMSA to provide some of those business owners with a chance to showcase their products — at the Taste of Jonesborough event — remains one of Lewis’ biggest points-of-pride.

“When all these merchants come in and they set up these tables, we take up the entire second floor of the (International) Storytelling Center,” Lewis said. “People pay to come in and visit and get samples from all these people. The merchants are all showing off what they offer. I just feel so proud for them.

“I just think it’s a great, beautiful night. Everyone is in a good mood, they’re happy, they’re proud of what they sell, and they want to show it.”

Whether it’s helping to organize the Taste of Jonesborough, or setting up tables for a chili cook-off, or working a booth for Relay for Life, Lewis won’t hesitate to lend a helping hand to the community she loves.

“I love this town,” she said. “I want to see it flourish. I want to see good things happen.”

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