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City history author Zeiss Lewis remembered for her contributions to the Cape

By CJ HADDAD - | Sep 10, 2020

Betsy Zeiss Lewis

A Cape Coral historian responsible for the creation of two long-lasting city organizations has passed away.

Betsy Zeiss Lewis, author of “The Other Side Of The River – Historical Cape Coral,” as well as a co-founder of the Cape Coral Historical Society and what is now the Friends of the Cape Coral Library, died Sept. 2 in Atlantic Beach. She was 98.

Zeiss Lewis lived in Cape Coral from 1965 until 1990. She founded the Little Acorns (now Friends of the Cape Coral Library) in 1972 and remained involved until her move to Atlantic Beach in 1990, even writing their newsletter called “Acorn Accents” her entire time with the non-profit. Little Acorns raised more than $100,000 over a decade to support and enhance the facility and services of the Cape Coral – Lee County Library.

Zeiss Lewis was a columnist for The Cape Coral Breeze, and she, along with then-editor David Hobe, Jerry Ladner, Paul Fickinger and her husband, Tony Zeiss, came together to create the Cape Coral Historical Society in 1978.

“Without Betsy’s dedication to the history of Cape Coral, I do not believe the Cape Coral Historical Museum would be where it is today,” said Wendy Schroeder, former president of the CCHS and friend of Zeiss Lewis. “She had the wherewithal to preserve the history of Cape Coral not only by her writings but by establishing a society to collect historical items that would be shared with future generations in a museum setting. As someone who loves history I am so glad she loved it, too.

“She always wanted information on Cape Coral even though she had moved to Jacksonville. I will miss our conversations. She always ended our phone calls with, ‘give my love to your husband.'”

Friends of the Cape Coral Library members said her memory still lives on within the organization today.

“While I didn’t know her personally, what’s important to remember is her legacy; providing leadership and being proactive in supporting a vibrant library in an ever-growing city,” said Dawn LaVacque, president of Friends of the Cape Coral Library. “Volunteer fundraising is hard work now, imagine what it took for Little Acorns to raise over $100,000 from 1973 to 1983. Our volunteers continue her legacy of caring and sharing, devoting our time and talents to benefit a wonderful community asset.”

Former president of Friends, Monica Rahman, said she was fortunate to meet Zeiss Lewis and proudly owns three signed copies of “The Other Side Of The River – Historical Cape Coral,” which was released in 1983.

“We had a chance to chat each time we met, and she included a personal message in my books. Such a lovely and gracious woman,” Rahman said.

Zeiss Lewis also authored “Around and About Cape Coral: a Memoir” and “Sowing Seed,” the story of her father’s forbearers since they first arrived in the New World from England.

Zeiss Lewis, along with her husband Tony, were very active in the city during their time here. Tony passed in 1980. Zeiss Lewis eventually remarried to Hugh Lewis, who died in 2000.

She was chairman of the Philanthropic Foundation, a member of the Southwest Florida Historical Society, the Society of Symphony Women, and on the board of the Civic Association in the city’s formative years.

Survivors include Cossette Zeno Bates, her sister-in-law, as well as nieces Marguerite Bates, Nadja Bates Preston, Susan McGarrity, Janet Seitzer, and nephew Edward (Ted) Stone, along with their children. Her siblings – E. Munroe Bates Jr., Robert Nason Bates, Peter Bates, and Barbara Bates Stone, predeceased her.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj