Caroline Lewis, who worked along with her husband, Ernie, at four of OKWU’s antecedent schools, went to be with the Lord on December 6, 2020. She was 94 years old. She is survived by her three children and nine grandchildren. Ernie and Caroline are the namesakes of the Lewis Alumni Park on OKWU’s campus.
Lewis and her husband, who passed away in 2014, are remembered for their decades of service to OKWU’s music ministry, spanning four states and four different preceding institutions. The two married in 1945, after Ernie’s service in Italy during WWII. He began teaching music at Pilgrim Evangelistic Institute, later known as Western Pilgrim College, in 1949. Caroline served as the piano player and worked in the school library. When the college moved, first to Colorado Springs in 1952 and finally to Bartlesville in 1959, the Lewis family followed, strengthening the choir and the music ministry at each stop. They retired from their work with the college in 1975.
“Caroline and Ernie Lewis are the epitome of what Oklahoma Wesleyan University’s mission means,” President Jim Dunn said. “They both loved Jesus, His Word, the truth, and living a life dependent upon the wisdom of God. A deep love for Jesus and a love for serving others is what Caroline was known for and loved for throughout her earthly life.”
During their decades of service, Caroline impacted hundreds of students’ lives—not just with her music ministry, but with her hospitality and willingness to bring students into her home.
“Caroline Lewis was a second mom to me,” Joe Colaw, a choir member during his time at Bartlesville Wesleyan College, said. “Conversations were never difficult with Momma Lewis. She had a knack for asking questions and engaging people… It was in their home that the Holy Spirit met with me on several nights to call me into the pastoral ministry.”
The Lewises invited many students into their home over the years, going above and beyond to connect. Many of the former students we contacted fondly remember taco suppers with Ernie and Caroline.
They also served as “parents” on the many choir trips taken across the country, taking care of their students and representing the university all across the United States.
“Conversations were never difficult with Momma Lewis. She had a knack for asking questions and engaging people… It was in their home that the Holy Spirit met with me on several nights to call me into the pastoral ministry.”
“Mom and Dad worked as a team,” Ernestine Atkinson, their eldest daughter, remembered. “They were together on all of the choir trips… Their primary goal, I’m sure, was to spread the gospel, but they were there as ambassadors for the colleges, too.”
Ed Rotz, another student and a current member of OKWU’s Board of Trustees, echoed this. “For many people throughout the western region of the United States, the Lewises were as much the face of the college as anyone,” he said.
Caroline was a self-taught gospel pianist who accompanied the college choirs. In fact, it was a love of music that brought Ernie and Caroline together. While students in Colorado Springs, they were forbidden to go on dates by school rules. To find time to spend together, they’d arrange musical rehearsals.
“They would make appointments for him to go to her house after school hours to practice his solos,” Ernestine said. “That was their way of spending more time together.”
For many years, Caroline also worked as the college librarian, taking classes in Library Science from Azuza Pacific University and Tulsa University. During her time in that role, she conducted in-depth research on the history of La Quinta Mansion, OKWU’s administrative building. Later on, she worked as the administrative assistant for President Leo Cox, who oversaw the merger between Miltonvale and BWC.
“They believed in the college itself. I think it was just their desire to train up the next generation into the church and the beliefs of the church.”
Ernestine says it was the couple’s passion for Christian education that allowed them to buy in so entirely during their time on campus. “They believed in the college itself,” she said. “I think it was just their desire to train up the next generation into the church and the beliefs of the church.”
The Lewis Alumni Gates at OKWU were found behind the Carriage House on campus and were dedicated to Ernest and Caroline Lewis in 2010. The park features the original gates and sconces from Central Pilgrim College, and engraved bricks are placed along the sidewalks honoring or memorializing graduates, professors, staff, and friends. In place of flowers, friends are invited to donate to:
Oklahoma Wesleyan University, Lewis Alumni Park.
Oklahoma Wesleyan University
2201 Silver Lake Road, Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74006
Phone: (918) 335-6200
More than anything, the Lewises are simply remembered as passionate followers of Jesus, who led many to saving faith in Christ.
“Caroline’s ministry was an early part of my personal walk with Jesus,” President Dunn said. “As a young boy, I accepted Christ at an altar of prayer at Tucson First Wesleyan Church the day Caroline played the piano and Ernie led the Bartlesville Wesleyan College Choir, entering the sanctuary singing, ‘I Know the Lord Will Make A Way.’ Yes, He will. Yes, He has for Caroline and for all who repent and believe on the Lord Christ for salvation. As a university, our prayers are with all of the Lewis family along with those who loved Caroline Lewis.”