By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Mary Lewis is a retired speech therapist who worked in USD No. 480 for 33 years.
Brenda Mallory, who has known Lewis for 26 years, said she first met Lewis when she had taught Mallory’s son in speech class.
Mallory said over the years, Lewis has helped a lot of kids and has likely worked in all of the schools in Liberal’s district. Mallory said Lewis did not fully quit teaching even after she retired three years ago.
“When she retired, some of the speech ladies, she actually came back on kind of a part-time thing to help them out because they were short handed,” Mallory said. “There was stuff she was teaching them with some of their speech stuff.”
As a speech therapist, Lewis, who has a daughter who is a deaf mute, does sign language in addition to other good deeds for children with hearing difficulties.
“She used to go pick up the kids from the deaf school and bring them home,” Mallory said. “She can look at you and read your lips.”
Lewis joined Liberal’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post about five years along with her husband as part of the post’s auxiliary unit, and Mallory said her friend is very active in the organization.
“She’s our treasurer and secretary for the auxiliary,” Mallory said. “She goes to all the district and department meetings.”
In addition to serving on the VFW auxiliary’s board, Mallory said Lewis has done other things for the post.
“In the past before she got sick, she used to drive people to doctors’ offices in Amarillo and Wichita,” she said. “There was somebody that was really sick. They couldn’t afford to get to California, and she drove them to California and back so they could see them.”
Lewis has lived in Liberal for most of her life, leaving only to attend school on the West Coast.
“She got married when she was 13 years old,” Mallory said. “They moved to California, and he joined the Navy. I don’t know how long they were married, but they got divorced.”
After the divorce, Lewis moved back to Liberal, where she remarried and had kids.
“She’s got three daughters and her son, and we’re hoping at least part of them get to be here,” Mallory said.
Mallory said Lewis is a caring person who will provide all the help she can.,
“She’s just a wonderful lady,” she said. “She bends over backwards to do stuff for everybody.”
In September 2012, Lewis was sick, and she was taken to the emergency room at Southwest Medical Center, and her brother later persuaded Lewis to go to a hospital in Wichita, where one of Lewis’s daughters lived with her granddaughter.
Mallory said Lewis was taken to Wichita on a Monday, and Mallory went to visit her friend on the following Tuesday in October. This is when doctors found cancer in Lewis’s body.
Mallory said Lewis’s cancer is pancreatic, and she has had surgery since the diagnosis.
“They took part of her stomach, part of her pancreas, part of her gallbladder, part of her intestine, part of her liver. It was all in that area,” Mallory said.
Lewis and Mallory were understandably devastated when they heard the news that Lewis had cancer.
“You just didn’t have a clue that that’s what it was,” Mallory said. “For Mary, she was just like anybody would be. She was just in shock over it. I was in Wichita with her, and I just held her. She just said, ‘Brenda, I need you to be there for me.’ I said, ‘That wouldn’t be a problem at all.’”
Lewis was in the hospital for 10 days prior to the surgery, four of which she was visited by Mallory.
“I went up the day of the surgery,” Mallory said. “It was a nine-hour surgery. It was a long, long day.”
Lewis had also gone to the ICU in the Wichita hospital for almost a week and was then moved to a regular room at the facility. She stayed there for another week before she came home in December 2012.
Doctors later told Lewis’s brother that she would likely not leave the hospital, but getting to come home proved otherwise.
“She fooled them,” Mallory said. “She’s strong. She fought, and she’s home with us. She does chemo five days a week for three days a week, and then she’s off a week. She’s doing this until June.”
Despite Lewis’s strength, Mallory said the chemo her friend has undergone weakens her significantly, but Lewis “just keeps on going.”
“She goes back once every other month to Wichita for a check up,” Mallory said. “She’s a diabetic. That makes her process a little slower. She comes out here (the VFW) not very often. It kind of gets her down.”
Through it all, Mallory said her friend remains optimistic.
“She takes everything,” she said. “She doesn’t get upset. She said this has happened. I’m gonna get through it. It’s just how it’s going to be.”
VFW Post No. 3166 is having a benefit supper and silent auction for Lewis starting at 6 p.m. this Saturday at the post at 1851 W. Second Street Road in Liberal.
The menu will include barbecue meats, potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, rolls, desert and coffee. There will also be spaghetti, garlic bread and salad, along with other sides.
The cost is $10 a person, and any and all donations are welcome. There will be a 50/50 pot, in which tickets will be sold for $1 each or six for $5. The winner of the pot will get half the money, and Lewis will get the other half.
For more information, contact Mallory at Cottonwood School at 620-604-2706 or at 620-482-1128. Donations can also be sent to Mallory at 919 N. Purdue, Liberal, KS 67901. Just put Mary’s name on the check, and it will be given to her the night of the benefit.
Anyone who would like to donate to the silent auction can contact Mallory or Annette Wilson.
“We will be glad to come by and pick it up,” Mallory said.