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Deep in the heart of Tex Lewis
Standing tall on the Clear Creek Trail in Gateway Park, Tex Lewis, wearing his trademark feathered cowboy hat, greets the joggers running past.
“Lookin’ good!” he calls out to one man Monday morning.
As a lifelong Navy engineer, Lewis had never been able to truly be part of a community until he retired 22 years ago.
“Being in the Navy, I was never anywhere long enough to get involved in the community,” he said. “You kind of develop your life around Navy life.”
That’s hard to imagine now for the people who know Lewis as one of the pioneers of the Clear Creek Trail, a former member of the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce and a mentor to Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts. As a Silverdale resident for the last 30 years, people now look to him for knowledge and assistance with community projects.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” said Hank Mann-Sykes, a longtime Silverdale booster who has worked with Lewis on the Central Kitsap Community Council, among other service projects. “He actually walks the walk.”
But with the county cutting money for parks and services and local service clubs dwindling — the Central Kitsap Kiwanis folded last month — Lewis says it’s time for ordinary citizens to step up and lend a hand where a park clean-up or fundraiser might be needed.
Lewis was born in Indiana and spent six years of his childhood in Guatemala, where his father worked as a railroad engineer. The nickname Tex was given to him by his uncle, hoping he wouldn’t feel left out as his four sisters were all named after states. His given first name is Quentin.
“The only time he was ever called Quentin was when he got in trouble,” said Lewis’ wife, Linda.
He served 30 years in the Navy and has lived the same number of years in Silverdale.
His work on the Clear Creek Trail started in 1993 when the late businessman Paul Brittain sought to preserve the Clear Creek corridor in the midst of Silverdale’s growing commercial development.
“It was kind of a forgotten little stream and we thought there was potential for a trail,” Lewis said, adding that as a runner, there was no place for him to jog. “I thought a trail would be kind of a neat thing to do.”
With Lewis’ help, Brittain helped establish the Clear Creek Task Force, made up of service clubs and volunteers. It started from the interpretive center on Bucklin Hill Road, a former barn. Since then, the Task Force has added to the trail every year, with the help of Central Kitsap High School students every Earth Day. Maintained by groups such as Boy Scouts, community service clubs and Alternatives to Detention, it now extends from the Silverdale Waterfront Park in the south up to the north end of Schold Road. Lewis now has his sights on extending the trail to the Ridgetop Boulevard area.
Mary Zabinski, the Clear Creek Task Force administrator who remembers walking the first stretches of the trail when home from college, said Lewis’ passion for the trail is infectious among volunteers and he allows everyone to take ownership of it.
“He appeals to our better nature,” she said. “I think what volunteers like Tex give back to the community is not just the project they’re working on, but they inspire people to think, ‘I could do something.’”
Mann-Sykes said that everywhere you look in Silverdale, from the Old Mill Park construction to the Anderson Hill Road overpass he painted with two volunteers, there’s something that Lewis had a hand in creating. But everything he does, including his work on the Clear Creek Trail, is done with humility and grace.
“He’s taken on the Clear Creek Trail as if he hit the beach in some war, but has done it in such a gentlemanly fashion,” he said.
But struggles like the ones suffered by the Central Kitsap Kiwanis is indicative of the general dwindling of service clubs, Lewis said.
“A lot of organizations like that are having a decline as the population ages,” he said. “The younger generation, they’re pretty busy and they don’t have as much time for the fellowship or the camaraderie that service clubs provide.”
Virginia Anderson, a member of the now defunct Central Kitsap Kiwanis, said low membership caused the club to disband.
“It was getting to the point we couldn’t support the program and we weren’t able to recruit,” Anderson said, noting the club was down to 12 members last month.
Mann-Sykes agrees with Lewis’ analysis, pointing out a change in attitude of the younger population.
“They don’t understand what service is,” he said. “The majority of them haven’t thought of doing any volunteering for anything in their life.”
However, given shrinking government budgets, which have forced groups such as the Seabeck-based Kitsap Tri-Babes and the Silverdale Dog Park Stewardship to open or maintain parks on their own, Lewis said more people are realizing they need to step in to help provide community services.
“I think more and more people are saying that life is more than just working and I’ve gotta give back a little bit,” he said. “A lot of people get satisfaction from helping the community.”