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Corrigan Times - Local News

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Lew Vail gets chamber’s Community Service award


LIVINGSTON -- The second 2012 Community Service Award honoree announced by the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce also made his way to Polk County from the farthest reaches of the United States. Former Onalaska Mayor Lew Vail was born in the Manhattan Borough of New York City. Vail’s mother was a nurse and when the war started she went to work at a hospital in Asbury Park, N.J. and Lew’s grandmother played a huge role in raising him. When Lew graduated from high school in 1955 he dreamed of being a veterinarian, but college was financially out of reach, so he joined the U.S. Army. He finished basic just in time for Uncle Sam to shut down the Canine Corps, so Lew was sent to Fort Sam Houston for training as a medic and surgical tech. “While in San Antonio, I fell in love with Texas,” Vail said. “I served at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. and almost three years in Europe — where I lost my nasal New Yawk vocabulary.” Vail returned to Texas in 1964 and went to work at the Baylor College of Medicine for the next four years. He quickly realized he could not support a growing family on just a technician’s salary, but during his time there he was able to meet such legendary physicians as Michael DeBakey, Denton Cooley and Domingo Liotta. “They were truly altruistic in their endeavors and their concerns started rubbing off on me,” Vail said. “While living in Tomball for the 18 years, I was privileged to be asked to join the Lions club and I watched and learned from great Lions — Past International Director (PID) Don Bucklew, owner of Conroe Buckalew Chevrolet; PID Marshall Cooper, PID Bev Stebbins and now Past International President Jimmy Ross – who visited Onalaska Lions with his dad. I realized that some people can support charities with large monetary donations and others can give of their time and whatever talent God has gifted them with.” When Lew’s youngest son Jim decided to go to Sam Houston State University, he and his wife Barbara decided to come along. Barbara served one term on the Onalaska City Council while Lew was elected to the OISD board of trustees. Jim Vail caught the public service bug and spent two terms on the Onalaska City Council and the family joke was the they were holding a seat for Lew. It eventually came true, and Lew spent 20 years as a member of City Council or Mayor. After his arrival in Onalaska, he didn’t leave the Lions behind. He transferred to the Onalaska Lions and still serves as secretary/ treasurer 35-plus years later. During 1998-2000, Lew was elected as Vice Governor and served as Governor of District MD-2 in 1999-2000. He is one of 16 Lions in Texas that after his term as Governor served as President of the Lions Eye Bank of Texas at Baylor College of Medicine — his old stompi ng grounds, although many new buildings had been added since he worked as a technician in 1964. “After totally retiring due to health issues, I was offered many local opportunities to give back to the Polk County community,” Vail said. “I have proudly walked alongside and rubbed shoulders with many wonderful people, many more deserving of the recognition of public servants. When two of the current Polk County sheriff’s deputies told me that my son, during his service with that body, was one of their training officers and they enjoyed his experience, I was proud, and I remembered that he also served as Constable of Precinct 2 before there was any remuneration for the position.” “I hope community service can be the legacy that I pass on to all the youth and men and women, who I have met, worked with or in some small way helped, through my meager efforts.” The person who nominated Vail for the award had a much different opinion. “Vail has served over 30 years totally for the benefit of others with no regard for personal sacrifice,” the nomination states. “He has served on numerous local, countywide and regional committees and board to plan and execute projects for the betterment of the lives of the citizens of East Texas. He and his wife Barbara were married for more than 39 years when she passed away. They had four children and Lew considers his three stepchildren as his own. He also has three granddaughters. He continues to put that parenting experience to good use as a CASA in Polk County. Vail was a corporate officer for Interect Inc. from 1968 to 1994. He has served as a director for the Polk County Appraisal District for eight years; is an active member of the local AARP chapter and served as President in 2008; serves on the board of the Polk County Crime Stopper and the Onalaska Public Library Board and secretary/treasurer of the Greater Onalaska Chamber of Commerce. Vail and other Chamber honorees, including the 2012 Polk Countian of the Year will be honored at the annual banquet on Jan. 31. For tickets, call the Livingston-Polk County Chamber of Commerce at 936- 327-4929 to reserve your table. Sponsorships are available for a limited time. Lew writes for the Corrigan Times and the Polk County Enterprise.


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