When Mary Agnes McCarville and Fred Lewis met as students at the University of Delaware in 1949, they naturally had no way of knowing where their courtship would lead.
Today, after 63 years of marriage, the Clarksville parents of 10 recently had something special to celebrate besides their remarkable good health and their large, close-knit family.
With all of their children in attendance, Mary Agnes Lewis, 86, was honored by the Baltimore Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America on May 1 as their first Eagle Scout Mom of the Year for helping all seven of the couple's sons become Eagle Scouts.
"It was a very shocking surprise to be chosen for this award," she said.
But organizers say she was the obvious choice.
"We really set the bar incredibly high when we picked Mary Agnes," said Rosa Sharf, who headed the selection committee.
"Once we read her story and learned about the awareness the children all had about helping others, we knew she was a great person to choose as our first winner," said Sharf, mother of an Eagle Scout and a senior vice president at Howard Bank.
Mary Agnes Lewis the first honoree by the Eagle Scouts Moms of the Baltimore Area Council. The group, formed last year, is the first in the country of its kind, Sharf said.
Lewises' sons, who range in age from 42 to 62 and live as far away as Arizona, each talked about their Eagle projects as students at Atholton and Centennial high schools during the ceremony at Towson University.
They described how their mother helped them achieve the highest rank of Scouting, which requires planning and executing a project that benefits the community.
All good friends as adults, the sons slipped into their brotherly ways from childhood and "played off each other," said Joan Lewis Kennedy, a daughter who is a real estate agent and also helps keep their parents' affairs in order.
"They were hilarious as they told their stories of how Mom encouraged and nudged them, sometimes more gently than at other times," Kennedy said.
Tim Lewis, who is chief operating officer for Ripken Baseball and the fifth Lewis child, said, "There were some magical moments that evening and some extraordinary things came out."
Some brothers read from prepared notes and others ad-libbed as they spoke of their mother's profound influence on their lives, he said. They focused on how their mother adheres to Scouting themes, like the importance of "leaving a place better than you found it," Tim Lewis said.
Tim Lewis had submitted the letter last fall to the Eagle Scout Moms committee that detailed the reasons why their mother should be considered. The award was devised to honor a woman who sets an exemplary example by giving back to Scouting and to her community.
He told the audience how he had shared driving duties with his mother on a road trip years ago with his five younger siblings to visit relatives in South Dakota. They stopped in a park along the way to eat the food she'd packed and encountered a homeless man who had apparently spent the night there.
"She told me to take some of our food to him because he was in a rough place and needed a hand," he said, recalling what a big impression her compassion toward a stranger made on him.
"That's who she is and what she does," he said, noting her decades volunteering with Our Daily Bread, a meal and employment program in Baltimore run by Catholic Charities.
The Ten Oaks Cup, a polo match that she founded at the Lewis family farm in 2006, has raised more than $400,000 to benefit the city program. Mary Agnes and Fred Lewis have been parishioners at nearby St. Louis Roman Catholic Church for 60 years.
Rick Lewis, a veterinarian and the eldest son, called their mother "our quiet inspiration" in his remarks, describing how she embodies the Boy Scout motto through careful listening, thoughtful teaching, respect for nature and willingness to help others at all times.
Tim Lewis said his and his brothers' stories about their mother are "all connected" and form a continuous thread throughout their lives.
"She is our family's unsung hero, and she just goes quietly about doing the right thing every day."
A family tradition
The coffee table in the living room of the Lewises' home on their 100-acre farm off Ten Oaks Road was a sea of olive green recently, covered with eight Boy Scout merit-badge sashes — including Fred Lewis', which the still-practicing veterinarian earned in 1944 as a 17-year-old growing up in Dover, Del.
The design of the sash hasn't changed over the six decades since the first and last of them were worn, making it a necessity to label them in order to distinguish ownership.
"We like to keep them here so everyone knows exactly where they are, since the boys live all over and travel extensively," said Mary Agnes Lewis.
The Lewis children, from oldest to youngest, are: Rick and Jim, both veterinarians; Lynn, a psychotherapist; Tom, an attorney; Tim; a financial adviser; Joan, the real estate agent; Ted, a financial adviser; Kathleen, a stockbroker; Mike, an audio engineer; and Jeff, a teacher.
Including all of their relatives, the Lewises said 23 members of the family have achieved Eagle Scout rank.
"It's such a wonderful program, so broadening and educating," said Fred Lewis, 87. "It teaches skills you can't learn anywhere else."
He commented on what an achievement and honor it was for his wife to be selected for the inaugural award.
"The Boy Scouts must have realized how much a mother's support [is necessary] to making it to Eagle Scout," he said.
Of the 162 people who attended the award ceremony, 141 were mothers of Eagle Scouts, said Jeffrey Griffin, a BSA field director. The event also raised $5,000 for camping scholarships.
For her part, Mary Agnes Lewis is grateful but humble about receiving the honor. She also shrugs off the singular achievement of giving birth to 10 children in 20 years.
"I never felt ill," she said. "The good Lord knew that I could handle it."
Perhaps even more incredible than being the mother of 10 children was that Mary Agnes Lewis worked outside the home, "something almost unheard of in that day," Sharf said.
Not only did she teach elementary school in Ithaca, N.Y., while her husband completed veterinary school at Cornell University, she went on to manage her husband's veterinary practice for many years and built the Clarksville Crossing shopping center in 1995 on three acres of the family's land.
She also helped the local chapter of the American Association of University Women form Kindercraft Inc., in order to hold kindergarten classes in the community before they were offered by the county public school system, worked on a women's cable TV program and played the organ at St. Louis.
"Coming to Howard County was one of the greatest things we could have done," Mary Agnes Lewis said of their arrival in 1954. She had helped out at her father's creamery as a child, so she especially appreciated the warm welcome given them by the local farming community.
"I have had a very remarkable life," she said.
Sharf said the Eagle Moms couldn't have been happier with the award program.
"They are such an inspirational family and you feel lucky to know them," she said. "After the ceremony you walked away knowing what's truly important in life."
Tim Lewis may have summed up his mother's life story best: "Our mother 'walks the talk' every single day."