CRYSTAL LAKE – A local businessman and behind-the-scenes philanthropist regarded by his peers as a "pillar in the community" died Wednesday afternoon.
Don Lewis died at age 84 of fast-spreading spinal cancer, six hours into a stay in hospice, his son Don Lewis, Jr. said. He'd remained an active presence in the community and at L&V Distributors, Inc. – the company he founded – as recently as earlier this year, Lewis, Jr. said.
"He was still coming in all the way up to the point he got sick," he said.
Lewis Sr. started the liquor distributor L&V Distributors, Inc. in 1967, first working with two trucks out of a Fox River Grove warehouse. It moved to its current location at 8108 Pyott Road, Crystal Lake, shortly thereafter.
As he settled into the community, Lewis became a significant contributor to several non-profits and organizations, his friends and peers said Thursday. He gave to the Pioneer Center for Human Services, Centegra Health Systems, the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce, Big Brothers Big Sisters of McHenry County, and the McHenry County Community Foundation, among others, they said.
"This guy did what it took," Gary Rosenberg said. "He was a pillar in the community. This community is going to miss him."
Rosenberg, owner of Crystal Lake Chrysler, partnered with Lewis to buy a Fox Lake Chrysler dealership in 2003. He said the two became close friends since, eating dinner twice a month and otherwise staying in touch.
"He was like my mentor," Rosenberg said. "I'm going to miss him a lot."
Mike Deacon's relationship with Lewis similarly started through business, but grew into a friendship.
"He was a tough businessman, but the more you got to know him you saw a soft side that was just so impressive," said Deacon, a commercial real estate broker with RVG Commercial Realty.
That soft side led Lewis to his philanthropic contributions, Deacon said.
"I just think think he was a great example of a genuine human being," he said.
L&V Distributors has been in talks recently with Buchanan Energy, which has aspirations to turn the space into a 20-pump gas station. Lewis, Jr. said he expects that transaction to occur eventually, but he's unsure what that means for the future of L&V.
"I don't know what we're going to do yet, but (Lewis Sr.'s) wishes were that he would have loved to have this thing keep going," he said.