Interview with Doris Lewis

Dublin Core


Interview with Doris Lewis


Hanford (Wash.)
Hanford Site (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.)
Richland (Wash.). Public Schools


An interview with Doris Lewis conducted as part of the Hanford Oral History Project. The Hanford Oral History Project was sponsored by the Mission Support Alliance and the United States Department of Energy.


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.

Date Modified

2016-06-22: Metadata v1 created – [RG]

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Bauman, Robert


Lewis, Doris


Washington State University - Tri Cities


Northwest Public Television | Lewis_Doris


Robert Bauman: [LAUGHTER] And, yeah, I'm sure it will be.

Man One: Yeah, I am too.

Doris Lewis: Because I think I've forgotten more than I remember.

Man One: Me too.


Miriam: So mom, I won't chime in unless you ask me to.

Lewis: Yeah.

Miriam: Okay?

Lewis: Okay.

Man One: Going here.

Bauman: Okay, we’re good to go?

Man One: Yeah.

Lewis: Well--

Bauman: All right.

Lewis: --see, you were born in--

Miriam: 1958.

Lewis: Yeah, October.

Miriam: Why don't we let them ask the questions?

Bauman: We'll go ahead and get started, yeah.

Lewis: Okay.

Bauman: So let's go ahead and get started. And first I'm going to just have say your name for us.              

Lewis: Now?

Bauman: Yeah, go ahead.

Lewis: My name is Doris Lewis.

Bauman: And my name is Robert Bauman. And today is August 14, 2013. And we are conducting this interview on the campus of Washington State University, Tri-Cities. So let's start by having you tell us about how and why you came to this area.

Lewis: Okay. I came to this--I got married in Seattle. I got engaged back in Minnesota and I came out west. And we were married in Seattle in--what was it?

Miriam: 1944.

Lewis: Yeah, 1944--December 5, 1944.

Miriam: So can I--Mom, but you came out here--you guys were waiting to get married for Dad to get kind of a good job.

Lewis: [LAUGHTER] Yeah.

Miriam: And so he got a job out here, right?

Lewis: Yes.

Miriam: When did he get the job out here?

Lewis: Well he got the job--let's see. We were married in--he got the job in '43.

Miriam: So you didn't even have your house when you moved out here. You came to Seattle, got married, and then moved into your house here?

Lewis: Yeah, we moved into a one-bedroom prefab, of which I have a picture.

Miriam: So you came out here because Dad got a job here. And that was what allowed you guys to get married. And that's when you moved here.

Lewis: Yeah. That's why I moved here, yes.

Bauman: And so what sort of job did your husband have?

Lewis: He was a photographer, a patrol photographer.

Bauman: And his name was?

Lewis: Walt--S. Walt--It's Sam Walter Lewis, but everybody knew him as Walt.

Bauman: And so he got a job working as a photographer at the Hanford site?

Lewis: Mm-hm. He was on patrol here, working on patrol. But he was a photographer.

Bauman: Oh okay, so working for the Hanford patrol? I see. Okay. What was Richland like when you came here in 1944?                                                             

Lewis: Well, Richland was still being built when I came here in 1944. And they put up prefabs to get housing up quickly. And since we were a couple, we got a one-bedroom prefab. It was on Sanford and Symons--a lot different today. And the sidewalks were that macadam. And asparagus was growing up on the sidewalks, as I remember, right across from our prefab. I have a picture here of myself sweeping off the porch--                                                                           

Bauman: That's great.

Lewis: --of the prefab. You may have it.

Bauman: We'll film that later. Yeah, that's great.                                                                            

Lewis: Mm-hm. So anyway, that was my first home here. And it was really darling. I bought yellow chintz with blue figures on it. And one of the women here helped me make drapes. People were very friendly. And she not only helped me, she just made the drapes. [LAUGHTER] And we used to get together and have parties. And we formed a community. It was a lot of fun.                                                                                

Bauman: Mm-hm. And I'm guessing there must have been people coming here from all over the United States?                                                                              

Lewis: All over, from every--the people I saw a lot of happened to be Southerners. And they were really warm and friendly.                                                                                         

Bauman: And you said your first house was--                                                                                   

Lewis: A one-bedroom prefab. And it was darling. It had a living room. And then it had a curtained off area for the kitchen and bathroom and bedroom. And it was adequate for a couple.                                            

Bauman: And how long did you live there?

Lewis: You know, I don't remember. Not too long. So we moved into a two bedroom for a while. I've lived in every house in Richland. [LAUGHTER]                                             

Bauman: So when you first came here, you talked about it being a very friendly place, very friendly community. Were there things to do, entertainment, places to shop, those sorts of things?

Lewis: Oh. They still had--big bands came here. And Hanford was still running. I went to their house, open house, where they served meals and stuff. They were still serving meals. And they served family style. The waiters came in with huge plates of food and put them on the tables, a lot of food. And they still hand entertainers come in. There were some big time bands. I don't remember now who they were, but they were notables. They were a lot of fun, too, because everybody was friendly. You danced with whoever asked you. And my husband was taking pictures. So I didn't get to--he didn't help me. [LAUGHTER]                                                                                        

Bauman: So it must have been quite a bit different than Minnesota, or Seattle.

Lewis: Oh, yeah, quite a difference, yeah.

Bauman: I've heard people talk about the heat and the dust and the winds, you know, the termination winds.                                                                                     

Lewis: And the place was dug up. So we'd have terrible sandstorms. And I would come home at night to my house and the couch--you know, these were prefabs. So they're not too well built. I come home to my house and my couch was covered with sand. You couldn't see the pattern on it. And then we had to sweep out. [LAUGHTER] We were young. And it didn't matter. We took everything in stride.                       

Bauman: Do you remember any community events or anything like that would go on in Richland at the time?

Lewis: I'm sure there were. I don't remember. I'm sure there were.                                                                         

Bauman: Yeah. I understand that there was not a synagogue at the time that moved here and that you and your husband were involved in--                                                                                  

Lewis: Yeah, there were about 12 of us, eventually. And we got a group together. We held services every Friday night in our homes. And we formed a Jewish community. Yes. As I say, there were only 12 of us. I don't know when we built the--we built the synagogue when Jerry was--                                                                          

Miriam: There was the 60th anniversary recently.

Lewis: Huh?

Miriam: Recently, there was the 60th anniversary.             

Lewis: Yeah.

Bauman: So sometime in the 19--early '50s.

Miriam: Yeah.                                                                               

Lewis: But we opened the synagogue when Jerry was about two or three, I think. A Seattle architect, a Jewish architect, drew up the plans--didn't charge us. And we had Meyer Elkins, who was--he supervised the building. He worked for AEC. And he was in charge of our synagogue building. We hired an architect from Seattle, and I cannot remember his name. But he was a very good architect. And our original synagogue has been enlarged to twice its size. There was an addition put on that was as big as the original building. Now I don't know when that was, either--I mean the date.

Bauman: Right.                                                                            

Miriam: All right, can I ask a question? Mom, how did you guys raise the money to build it?

Lewis: How did we raise the money?                                                                                   

Miriam: And how many more--you were 12 originally, but how did the congregation grow?              

Lewis: Well, it grew. There were 12 of us that built it, the synagogue. We pledged to pay over a period of years. And the bank loaned us the money. And now what did you just ask me?                                    

Miriam: Just--there were 12 of you to start with, but when the synagogue was built, did people start hearing of it and start coming? Sorry, I'm--                                                                             

Lewis: Yeah, well I don't know. I don't know when--it took a while to build it. And once they built it, then we had regular services every Friday evening and Saturday morning. And we celebrated holidays there. The synagogue was a central point for us. That's where we held all our activities. That's where we met. And that's how we really functioned.                                                                                       

Bauman: And you said there were 12 initially. Do you remember any of the other individuals who were involved early on?

Lewis: Any what?

Bauman: Any of the other people who were involved early on?

Lewis: Oh yeah, well most of them are dead now.

Bauman: Sure.

Lewis: There was Meyer and Tilly Elkins. And Meyer was a--he was a builder. He was an engineer. But he did building. And he supervised the building. And I'll tell you, it was perfect. [LAUGHTER] He was very, very concerned about every detail. We have a good, solid building. And if it weren't for these dedicated people, we wouldn't have had anything. Because we pledged the money for it, which at that time seemed like a lot of money. You couldn't do it today. And I don't remember the amount, but I think it was only about $16,000. I'm not sure of that.                                                                                 

Miriam: So mom, who were the rest of the 12 people?

Lewis: Now that's a good question.

Miriam: The Francos.

Lewis: The Francos.

Miriam: So that's Bob and Eileen Franco. The Kahns? Were the Kahns?                                                                   

Lewis: Well yeah, Herb--

Miriam: Herb and Albert--

Lewis:  --took charge of the financing, took charge of the banking.                                                                         

Miriam: So that's six out of the 12. Who were the--oh, the Goldsmiths. Were the Goldsmiths?                             

Lewis: Yeah, I don't think they were early, no. I'm trying to remember. You know, I don't remember.

Miriam: That's something my brother could probably actually give you the information on.

Lewis: Well it might be in the book.

Miriam: No, this is Kennedy.                                                                                   

Lewis: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I don't know what Jerry remembers. But he was, I think, about two years old when they built it.                                                                                

Miriam: But we can ask Jerry. Jerry can give them the information about the rest of the 12 people. Because I'm sure he will know.                                                                               

Bauman: That's fine, yeah, sure.

Lewis: Okay.

Bauman: I was going to ask you then, obviously, your children were born here?

Lewis: Who?

Bauman: Your children were born here. Is that correct?

Miriam: Yeah.

Lewis: Oh, you--Miriam was born here and Jerry was born here.                                                                               

Bauman: And how was Richland as a place to raise a family? How did you experience that?

Lewis: It was a wonderful place to raise a family. Because families were very important. And we got everything for free. They needed people here. And they did everything to keep us. Because it was a population that moved in and moved out. Many of them came, looked around, and left. They wouldn't stay. [LAUGHTER] But I think it was a very nice little community. We loved it here. We made friends, and we had activities. And we were busy. And then, of course, I had a job. I was a secretary. I worked first it was still under DuPont until I think '45 when GE came in.                                                                              

Bauman: And what part of the Hanford site did you work at?                                                                                    

Lewis: Well I worked down--I was downtown then in the Ad Building. And I worked for--I can't remember what--Overbeck was one of the fellows. I was one of the top secretaries here at that time.

Bauman: And how long did you work?                                                                                

Lewis: I worked a long time. [LAUGHTER]  I quit working when my son was born. And that was in '55. And I quit for six or seven years. And then I came back to work again. And I worked part time for a while. But secretaries always had jobs. They needed secretaries. And I was an experienced one. They used to say if you knew a typewriter from a washing machine, they'd hire you. [LAUGHTER]                                    

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] And what did you think of working at Hanford? How was your experience or your experiences working there?

Lewis: What did I think of working there?

Bauman: Yeah, how was it?

Lewis: I liked it. It was interesting work. I didn’t know--I wasn't engineering knowledgeable. I didn't really know what they were doing. But it was a big secret. And in August 1945--I think that was when the first bomb was dropped. I remember working in the Ad Building there. And all the managers, everybody was on edge, waiting to hear the outcome of the dropped first bomb. Yes.

Bauman: Is that when you first knew what was going on, what had been happening at Hanford?              

Lewis: Yeah, it was all very secret. And it didn't get out. Very few people knew what they were doing. Because very few people--it was a new art, or whatever you call it--a new technical thing. And they never knew, until it went off, if it was going to work. I worked for W. P. Overbeck. I worked for Vic Hansen from DuPont. He was one of the managers, a very good man. But he was only there for about six months after I hired in.                                                                               

Bauman: So when you first came for your jobs at Hanford, what did you know about the place? Were you just told it had something to do with the war effort?                                                                                 

Lewis: We weren't told anything. I don't remember them--we knew we were working for the government and that it was very secretive. And that's all we knew. And I wasn't educated enough to know what we were doing. Now, some people may have surely knew. But as I say, engineering was something I didn't know anything about. But I learned some things. And I helped the wheels go around.   

Bauman: Yeah, did you have to get a special clearance to be able to work at Hanford?

Lewis: Yeah, I had--we wore security badges. And before I quit, I got a top security clearance, because I'd been here a long time. And I worked for some of the top fellows. G. G. Lale--I can't remember what he was, but he was assistant to the man that was in charge. I think W. E. Johnson was in charge then. I'm not sure. Things are jumbled together for me. Because I'm so old I can't remember too accurately either.           

Bauman: You're doing great. [LAUGHTER] You're remembering a lot.

Lewis: [LAUGHTER] I don't know.

Bauman: So your husband working for the Hanford patrol as a photographer. How long did he work at Hanford?                                                                                       

Lewis: He worked here a long time. And then he finally quit and went to Oregon--Gresham, right outside of Portland, and established his own business. That was a dream of his all his life. He wanted to have a studio, photographic studio, so he bought one. But however, he didn't look closely enough at it. And he spent a year trying to build a business. But he never could accomplish one that would keep us. And I was supposed to join him in about three months, quit my job and join him. But in three months’ time we knew that he needed my financial help. So I stayed on. And we visited back and forth. And he finally quit and came down here. And he got a job here as a photographer.                                                           

Bauman: I wanted to ask you about President Kennedy's visit in 1963.                                                                    

Lewis: Yeah, that was--we went out. It was a hot, hot day. It was when the Dual Purpose Reactor--it was a D Reactor--was being dedicated. And Kennedy--it was a very hot day out in the desert. And there was a big crowd--I don't know, 40,000 50,000--a lot of people. And a friend of mine and I--Bonnie Goldsmith. They were here early. And we took our kids, Philip and Jerry, but--

Miriam: Not me.

Lewis: Not you, no. And they were what, about five or six?

Miriam: No, it was 1963. They were seven or eight.

Lewis: Yeah, and they immediately ran around, got lost. We had to find them. But Kennedy spoke. He was the most impressive, the most glamorous man I think I've ever in my life seen. And he was a marvelous speaker. It was just a pleasure to sit down and look at him and listen to him. He was fantastic. And he had this magic wand that started the reactors at D Area. But this desert—I think there were 40,000, 50,000 people there. And it was a hot, hot day. And the cars were--length of cars there. I remember--when was D activated? I can't remember the date. But everybody spoke. It was a wonderful, wonderful affair. And it was so impressive that waving the wand started the reactor. So it made both electricity and the others.                                                                                     

Bauman: And your husband took some photos that day?                                                                             

Lewis: Mm-hm. He took photos. And we have some of the photos in this book there. The information is there. My son gathered it all together. He published not very many of these. He just did--something that he wanted to do. So you may look at it, because the pictures and the information on there are much more accurate than what I'm giving you. [LAUGHTER] I don't remember a lot. Miriam might remember stuff when she started school here, too, that might be of interest. Okay?                                                                        

Miriam: Well he can ask the questions, and if he wants to ask me I'm sure he will.                                

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] Well I was going to ask are there any other major events that happened while you were working at Hanford that you recall or--                                                                                

Lewis: Oh, well no doubt there were a lot of major events. But I don’t—I mean, if you ask me the question, I could answer specifically. But as a whole, the work went on daily. The scientists were working on it all the time. And when they dropped the bomb in, what was it, August? Was it August?

Bauman: August, uh-huh.                                                                                                                                                    

Lewis: Everybody was waiting. We didn't know what they were waiting for. But they were waiting. The top fellows knew that the bomb was going to be dropped. And we did get the information, finally. It was terrible, really. It was a terrible thing to do. But they felt that they really saved lives by dropping that bomb. Because they stopped—I mean, they weren't winning, they weren't losing. It was a very iffy situation. And that, of course, stopped everything. It was terrible.

Bauman: I was going to ask you—Richland initially was a government town, federal government. At some point it became an independent--                                                                                       

Lewis: They sold the houses to the inhabitants.

Bauman: So were you able to buy your house at that point, then, buy a house?

Lewis: Yeah, we bought--what was the first house we bought? I think it was a B house.

Miriam: Was that the house where I was born?                                                                               

Lewis: Yeah, it was a B house.

Miriam: Yeah.

Lewis: Two-bedroom house, a duplex.                                                                                

Bauman: And do you remember, were people in Richland excited about the possibility to do that sort of thing, to have independent--                                                                                    

Lewis: Do they have what?

Bauman: Were people in Richland excited about being able to buy their own homes, be sort of independent?                                                                               

Lewis: Oh, yeah. By that time they will permanently implanted here. And the job was going to go on. [COUGH] Excuse me. And they sold the houses for pittances. Especially the expensive houses were real bargains--the prefabs not so much, because they didn't cost much in the first place. But I think I was living in a B house then, a two-bedroom duplex. And I bought the whole house. And we rented out the duplex. And I lived there for a while. And then we sold it and bought a ranch house. [LAUGHTER] I've lived in, I think, every house here. I lived in a B house, in a ranch house, and in a--what else? In our house.                                                                                       

Miriam: I don't have the letters memorized. [LAUGHTER]

Lewis: Yeah, right.                                                        

Bauman: Is there anything that we haven't talked about yet, anything that--

Lewis: I kept upgrading myself.                                                

Miriam: In terms of history, probably not, although you did ask about--Mom, I was just curious, because this is of course what I like to know, where did you grocery shop and stuff when you first came here?

Lewis: Well we had a Keiser's store, a grocery.                                                                                

Miriam: When you first came here in '44?                                                                                         

Lewis: Well you know, I don't know what we had then. We had a Keiser--we had grocery stores. I think Safeway was here then.

Miriam: Oh, really?

Lewis: Yeah, right.                                                                                      

Miriam: Yeah, I was just curious.                                                                           

Lewis: Mm-hm. I don't remember a lot. But I think there was plenty of shopping.                                                

Miriam: Mm-hm. Were you happy with the schools you sent us to?

Lewis: Yes, I was active in the schools. And my relationships were very good. Our teachers were excellent. They were dedicated, because they came out here in the middle of nowhere. [LAUGHTER] What did you think about your teachers?                                                                                 

Miriam: Well I just thought--this is my impression, is that because there were so many scientists here that education was a value and that I remember that school levies, when I was growing up, because I born in 1958, the school levies always passed. Nobody considered that they shouldn't be spending public money to support education. And I always thought that was because of the heavy concentration of really highly educated people that came here.                                                                                  

Bauman: So what schools did you go to then?                                                                                 

Miriam: I went to Jefferson Elementary, Chief Joseph Junior High, and Richland High School. And my brother--Jerry went to Jason Lee to begin with. Mom, do you remember? Jerry didn't start at Jefferson.

Lewis: No, he didn't.

Miriam: Jason Lee?

Lewis: I don't remember.

Miriam: I think so. Anyhow, he started a different school and then went to Jefferson when we moved to the neighborhood where we--

Lewis: Lived.

Miriam: --Grew up. And where Mom still lives.

Bauman: And so, those elementary schools must have been pretty much new when your kids started there, or close to.

Lewis: Yeah. Jefferson was just built, I think. It wasn't very old.

Miriam: Yeah, I don't know.                        

Bauman: And just given the influx of population suddenly, all these young families, there had to have been a new school being opened that served the population there. Anything else you can think of that either one of you--we haven't talked about, or--?                                                                                 

Miriam: Well just that I think, Mom, you never thought that you would come out here and spend the rest your life here. [LAUGHTER]

Lewis: No, never. I never thought that. And it was away from my family, and from friends. However, we managed. We went back to Minnesota every summer. [LAUGHTER] Our families were there.                       

Miriam: But I want to come back a little bit to the synagogue. Because as a very, very tiny minority here, we families banded together to build the synagogue, it was a very, very strong community. And still, it's not as strong now in that same way, but these people were all like additional parents, or like aunts and uncles to all of us. And my mom was called Aunt Doris. My dad was called Uncle Walt. That was how we addressed the parents in those families, us as children. And that it's interesting to have this group of Jews wandering in this particular desert. [LAUGHTER] Because it really has a very, very--it's a microcosm of the whole Richland thing, where you have people coming from all over and creating a very strong, very close community, because they are away from all of the places they came from. And our Jewish community reflected that same phenomenon.                                                                                       

Bauman: Absolutely, yeah, right, thrown together from all these disparate areas.                                

Lewis: As time went on, we never intended--at first, we intended to move back to Minnesota when this job was finished. It was never finished.                                                                           

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] It just kept going.                                                                            

Lewis: Yeah, so we stayed on. And it was our home. We loved it here. I love it here.                            

Bauman: That's a similar theme I get. A lot of people who I've talked to come here thinking they'll stay here for a little while and then end up staying for 40 years or 60 years or however long. [LAUGHTER]

Lewis: Yeah, right. A little while became forever.

Bauman: [LAUGHTER] Right, right. Well I want to thank you very much for coming in today.

Lewis: Yeah, I'm afraid I wasn't much help, because my memory's so bad. [LAUGHTER]

Bauman: This was terrific.

Lewis: But it was fun. It was a wonderful experience. We loved it here. I still do.

Bauman: Well thank you again. Appreciate it. 



Bit Rate/Frequency

239 kbps

Hanford Sites

Ad Building
D Reactor

Years in Tri-Cities Area


Names Mentioned

Lewis, Sam Walter
Elkins, Meyer & Tilly
Overbeck, W.P.
Lale, G.G
Johnson, W.E.
Kennedy, John F.


Lewis, Doris.jpg


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities, “Interview with Doris Lewis,” Hanford History Project, accessed May 25, 2022,