The National Iron & Steel Heritage Museum
Regina Horton Lewis — 2013

7th Rebecca Lukens Award Recipient

Born on the seventh day of the eleventh month in 1947, good fortune seemed to follow young Regina Horton wherever she went. And ‘good fortune’ wasn’t always how she thought of things growing up as a young African American female during the turbulent 1950’s and 1960’s. “I was born and raised in West Chester; on East Barnard Street,” says Regina. “We were a very tight knit community. Things were segregated then, so our community had to take care of itself. 

Her parents were the beacons of light in an often-challenging world. “It was my parents who first taught me about community and the importance of doing community work. They were involved with our church, politics, clubs, and the West Chester Community Center. The Community Center was truly the centerpiece of our community. When we could not swim at the local Y, we could swim there,” says Lewis.

Her parents believed in a strong education. Her father, although not a college graduate, achieved the status of engineer. He believed that education was the answer to advancement for his children. “Although,” says Regina, “there was a rift in his thinking. He believed that a college education was important for the boys, but not for the girls.” “Luckily,” says Regina, “my mother believed that education was important for girls!”

Although she didn’t follow the often-traditional path of college as a young adult, Regina was determined to “do it her way.”  “By the time I attended Brandywine Junior College (now Widener University on Rt. 202 in Delaware), I was going to work during the day, raising two young children and trying to get my degree, all at the same time,” says Regina. “I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wanted to be a lawyer.”

She ended up spending 25 years in the corporate environment. She worked for companies like IBM, National Liberty and Prudential. All the while, her eye never left the importance of community and the need to give back. “I got married, had two children, got divorced and went to night school while I held down a job. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. That’s where the community helped me,” says Regina. She was always devoted to the church and her music, whether as a pipe organist or chapel organist at Lincoln University, or even in the choir, like her mother. It was these organizations that gave her first hand knowledge of what “not-for-profit” really meant.

When Regina retired from the corporate world in 1994, she joined The Coatesville Area Partners for Progress (CAPP). “CAPP was a business group, made up of business leaders who focused on the revitalization of Coatesville,” says Regina. She previously served on many Boards and that is where she had a birds’ eye perch on how non-profits operated. Eventually, she accepted the position of Executive Director at Chester County Community Dental. 

Coatesville had made such a deep impression on Regina, that after her divorce, she decided to move to Coatesville. “I bought a house on Stirling Street. It was in the heart of the city. It was a safe and comfortable neighborhood.  It was a house with a history. I loved that house,” says Regina. “I knew that Coatesville was a diamond in the rough. It was a beleaguered city, but I wanted to be part of the turn around!” 

One thing Regina is still working on is trying to overcome “the divide.” “It’s a divide between black and white and the haves and the have-nots in Coatesville,” says Regina. “We’ve worked hard to overcome this and bring this community together. We will not stop until we have fully achieved that goal.” There’s no better person to lead the effort than Regina Horton Lewis.