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‘No. 1 Papa’

‘No. 1 Papa’

By Sherri Coner

More than 40 years ago, Shannon Proctor of Greenwood was nearly 7 years old, and her younger sister Jamie Lewandowski of Center Grove was 4.

On that particular day, their parents had argued again.

Later, their mother said she was going to Wendy’s to get food for everyone.

When she wasn’t home by bedtime, the girls and their dad, Raymond Lewandowski, assumed she would come home the next day.

But their mother never returned.

Functioning as Mom and Dad

A hard-working family man, Raymond focused on healing two little girls’ broken hearts.

“He was my mom and my dad,” Jamie said. “And we were his world.”

Jamie Lewandowski of Center Grove and Shannon Proctor of Greenwood with their late father, Raymond Lewandowski. (Submitted photos)

When divorce proceedings began, Raymond’s daughters said they wanted to live with him.

He filed for custody.

“He said he would fight for us, and he won,” Shannon said. “Back in the 1980s, this was not common.”

Some people looked down their noses at Raymond and his daughters.

Devastating consequences

“We were the first family in our Catholic school to go through a divorce,” Jamie said. “Other kids couldn’t come over anymore after our mom left us.”

Seeing female friends with their mothers stung, but Shannon and Jamie kept those hurts private.

Some parts of their lives were impossible for their dad to fix.

Jamie Lewandowski, Madisyn Proctor, Kieran Lewandowski-Rhoads, Brady Proctor, Shannon Proctor and Raymond Lewandowski, on vacation.

As they grew up and chose life paths, Raymond stayed in Hammond, Ind., working as a foreman at the same job he landed at age 18.

Shannon, a fifth-grade teacher at Clark-Pleasant Elementary School, has three children, Madisyn, Ella and Brady.

While pregnant with her first child, Shannon reacted to what she didn’t have.

“I was scared, and I didn’t even know if I knew how to be a mom,” she said.

Words of comfort

Soft-spoken Raymond showed up with healing words.

“My dad would reassure me that I would be the best mom,” Shannon said. “Once they placed my daughter in my arms, I knew I would never leave my children. I wanted to be like my dad.”

Jamie, the attendance secretary at Center Grove High School, has a 6-year-old son, Kieran.

Kieran Lewandowski-Rhoads and Raymond Lewandowski

As devoted as Raymond was as a dad, he was even more amazing as a papa.

“He adored them all,” Jamie said of the grandchildren.

He cheered on the older grandchildren.

He taught Brady a lot of home maintenance skills.

He wrestled and played with Kieran.

A kid at heart

Every year, Raymond donned his favorite baseball cap with ‘No. 1 Papa’ printed across the top and took both daughters and all four grandchildren on vacations.

“Our dad loved Disney World,” Jamie said. “He rode all the rides with the kids.”

“He lost one of his hats on a ride,” Shannon said with a smile.

Being silly with the grandkids. Brady, Madisyn and, Ella Proctor, Raymond Lewandowski and Kieran Lewandowski-Rhoads.

During a Disney World trip in October of 2021, Papa lagged behind.

He wasn’t himself.

His daughters were immediately concerned.

Two months later, Raymond was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare but aggressive bile duct cancer.

In disbelief, Shannon and Jamie witnessed how quickly their hero’s life was being stolen away.

Sometimes the two adult women reverted to the two little girls from 40 years ago, who only had their dad. How would they cope with such loss?

With his daughters and Brady by his side, Raymond, 71, passed away Oct. 22, 2022.

A spirit watches over his family

The night after he died, Jamie was in bed. “I heard a big bang. I thought someone broke in,” she said. “Then I saw someone by my bedroom door. I freaked out but he didn’t move. It was my dad. He had his papa hat on, and I saw his little pillow belly. It was his silhouette.”

Jamie isn’t the only one who experienced unexplainable moments.

On Ella’s first day back to school after losing her papa, “I saw a sign that said, ‘That’s a wrap,’ That’s something my papa always said.”

Also, Raymond died at 4:44 a.m. “I see those numbers a lot,” Jamie said.

A mysterious cross appeared by a Dollar Tree as Jamie was leaving the store.

Another day, Jamie saw a cross above the store she and Kieran were leaving.

Initially, she assumed it was the shadow of a light pole.

But there were no shadows of wires.

Some people think it’s silly, but Jamie doesn’t care; she sends a text or a photo every day to her dad’s phone.

She finds comfort in sending messages to him.

“Our dad raised us to be strong women,” Jamie said as she wiped away tears.

However, while Raymond tried for 40 years to heal their hearts and help them to feel safe, he did not teach them to live without him.

On this first Father’s Day, without the guy who hoarded napkins and nail clippers and never went anywhere without black licorice in his pocket – without their hero – tears and grief are likely.

But wonderful memories of this loving man will one day help to balance the sadness and loss.

“Life will never be the same for us,” Jamie said.

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