Vets Group Steps Up To Help Pair Of Local Teens

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A local veterans' group is helping a teen-age brother and sister in Payson who are having to deal with a second tragedy in the last three months.

In October, Ruth Ann and Matthew Lewis of Payson lost their mother, Marcia, to a sudden heart attack. The parents were separated and Marcia Lewis had been living in Phoenix.

Ruth Ann, 19, and Matthew, 16, are now having to deal with the death of their father, John Lewis, who was killed Dec. 21 in a car accident near Gila Bend.

According to Misti Isley of Veterans Helping Veterans, Lewis, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, was returning from a gun show in Del Mar, Calif. when a truck pulled out in front of his vehicle.

Isley said the house that Lewis shared with his children is under foreclosure. She said she and others are trying to raise money for funeral expenses and to pay for the house Lewis' children live in "until they decide what they want to do."

"We put out a call that we needed the January rent so the kids would get a chance, find a place to live -- whatever," Isley said. "All the service organizations have donated -- we're trying to do our best here."

John Lewis didn't have a job, but he helped out with the local veterans' group. He was a Navy and a Marine veteran who had served four years in the military during the Korean War.

"He had diabetes, which was service-related, but he hadn't filed a claim," Isley said. "He had no full funeral rights, although he did have graveside rights."

Memorial services for John Lewis were to be held today (Tuesday) at 2 p.m. at the First Southern Baptist Church. Arrangements were handled by Payson Funeral Home.

John Lewis was also a Mason and an Elk.
He was in the business of helping others, Isley said, and would take donations that the veterans' group received to other shelters and to Indian reservations.

"We worked together very closely," she said.

"When we get more than we can use, we give to shelters and share with Indian nations across the state. John drove the truck as far as Winslow and Four Corners and to the mission at Chinle."

Isley said the members of the veterans' group now have a hole in their lives.

Although she was a military nurse in the South Pacific for 22 years and has seen more than her share of tragedy, Isley said she is still reeling from Lewis' death.

"When you're in battle, you expect people to die. You work with death and dying every day, but this has really knocked the props out from under me," she said. "We all loved him dearly."

Those wishing to donate can contact Misti Isley at Veterans Helping Veterans at 474-3920.

Memorial gifts may be made to Veterans Helping Veterans, Ponderosa Manor, 212 W. Wade Lane, Payson AZ 85541.

Ruth Ann Lewis was in the news over the past year after being arrested as one of the "Payson 11" in the September 1997 shooting of Cam Morrison. She was placed on probation after pleading guilty to facilitation to commit burglary.

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