Endowment Fund Supports Department of History

Gene Lewis says it’s quite a special year for him and the University of Cincinnati (UC).

Gene and Dottie LewisSixty years ago, he accepted the position of assistant professor in the UC Department of History. UC is where he would go on to accomplish much of his life’s work, advancing to professor, assistant to the president, and finally senior vice president and provost before retiring in 1998 as professor emeritus.

Gene also met his wife Dottie (Bidlingmeyer) Lewis, A&S ’57, at UC where she worked in admissions. Together, the couple established lifelong friendships with colleagues and students. 

As members of the UC family, Gene and Dottie have given generously to UC scholarships and funds. Most recently, they culminated their many years of giving with a substantial bequest that will establish a new endowment benefiting the department and college they love. The Gene D. & Dottie Lewis Endowment Fund will provide broad support for faculty and students in the UC Department of History. This includes faculty research and travel, department lectures and events, and scholarships for undergraduate students and graduate students focusing on American History.

While Gene and Dottie have spent their time pursuing similar passions – history, social justice, and education – their childhoods were vastly different.

Gene, the youngest of six children, was born the first year of the Great Depression. He grew up a modest home in what he describes as “the small, mountain village of Young, Arizona.” His high school was small; he was the only person to graduate at the age of 16 in 1947. After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Arizona State University, he traveled across the country by bus to attend the University of Illinois where he earned his doctorate.

The ultimate historian, Gene still has a postcard he sent his mother on that trip in 1953.

“I wrote on a Saturday evening at 7 p.m., ‘The country is awfully green back here,’” Gene says with a smile. “’But very flat.’”

Gene’s travels exposed him to segregation, making him a lifelong proponent of social justice.

“I was in Tulsa, and I saw two fountains; one colored, one white,” Gene recalls.  “I’d never seen that. I tasted both of them and said, ‘The water tastes the same.’ That was my beginning of my fight for civil rights.”

Gene later participated in the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama and other protests in Cincinnati.

Dottie has strong Cincinnati roots and Gene teases her that she never traveled very far from her birthplace, the original Jewish Hospital in Avondale. She attended Walnut Hills High School and UC, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. While working in admissions after graduation, her boss suggested, “There’s a young bachelor in history and you should meet him.”

That she did; Dottie and Gene married in 1963.

Dottie’s career included fundraising for the Volunteers Project of the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati, teaching at Hebrew Day School and serving as the editor of the Cincinnati Historical Society Journal, Queen City Heritage, for 25 years.

Devoting their lives to education and lifting young minds are why Gene and Dottie care deeply about UC and the future of its history department.

“It’s an important mission, educating young people,” reflects Gene. “And as I look back on the association I have with students, many still come to visit and we have very good friends from when I first came here.”

“You keep in touch with the students, they visit and you get to know their families,” Dottie said. “And so many of them have been successful, and they too continue to show interest in the university.”