For the students and staff at the Mary Louis Academy, Joseph Lewinger was their biggest cheerleader and the heart of the private all-girl’s school in Jamaica Estates, Queens.
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“Everybody loved him. Everybody just filtered to him because he was such a positive energy,” said Jenny Limberg Durkin, an art teacher at the Mary Louis Academy.
Limberg Durkin worked with Lewinger for 15 years and considered him one of her best friends. She last texted with him Thursday.
“I said, Joseph, you're meant to rise, you’re meant to beat this. And you will. You know, I really believed he would. He just sent me back some praying emojis and said, ‘I just need to keep breathing.’”
But Lewinger lost his battle to Covid-19 on Saturday, leaving behind a wife and three children. He was only 42 years old and had no underlying medical conditions.
It’s not the first fight for the Lewinger family. In 2008—his then three year-old twins were diagnosed with a rare cancer. After taking a leave of absence, Lewinger spoke to NY1 about returning as basketball coach to the team he loved so much — after his children were in recovery.
"It's a sense of relief and I tell the girl's this season is like a trophy for me, meaning that no matter what happens, the fact that I'm here is an accomplishment for my family," Lewinger told NY1 in 2010.
While social distancing makes it impossible to celebrate his life right now, the Mary Louis community is finding ways to connect.
Amanda Burakoski, who won a state championship in 2007 under Lewinger, says she considers him like a father figure.
In recent days she’s reconnected with her old teammates for the first time in years.
“Everyone says you know this is what Joe would want, and I think Mary Louis as a community is seriously coming together,” said Burakoski.
The women are sharing videos and photos on social media, remembering Lewinger as someone with a real zest for life.
“Joe Lewinger was just the most friendly face you could ever see walking down the halls at Mary Louis,” said Michelle Masiello, a former student.
“He really took the time to know each person that he came in contact with," said Allison Moloney, a former student.
“He had the biggest heart and made everyone feel cared for," said Kellie Alberici Correira, a former student.
A GoFundMe campaign is underway to raise money for Lewinger's wife and kids. For information go to go fund me dot com and search Support for the Lewinger Family.
In addition, a scholarship fund is being created at the Mary Louis Academy to benefit students in need at the school he loved so much.