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Over the past 45 years, organizations in Dakota County came to know they could rely on Jill Lewis.

"She was very devoted to anything she did," said her daughter, Amy Nugent. "She didn't do anything for a short time."

Lewis, of Inver Grove Heights, died of pancreatic cancer June 7. She was 74.

Lewis worked as a real estate agent for 10 years and as a mortgage broker and underwriter for 34 years, and she had prominent roles in several community services.

The lifelong Dakota County resident served as a school board member for 40 years and managed a foundation that provided scholarships to high school graduates for more than 30 years. She served as president of the trustee committee of the Old Salem Shrine (Little White Church) in Inver Grove Heights for 30 years. She was also active in the South St. Paul/Inver Grove Heights Rotary Club.

"She definitely stayed busy," Nugent said. "She was very focused and businesslike, but she valued people, relationships and family."

Lewis was born to Edith and Cyrus Zehnder on Dec. 24, 1945, in St. Paul. She was raised in Sunfish Lake and graduated from Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights in 1963.

She served on the Inver Grove Heights school board for 15 years and as its chair for seven years. She was appointed in 1995 to the board of Independent School District 917, which provides service and support for nine south metro area school districts. Lewis had chaired that board for the past 21 years.

She also helped create the Inver Grove Heights B.E.S.T. Foundation in the 1980s. Over 30 years, she managed the foundation, which awarded $3 million in scholarships to Simley High School graduates.

"Jill was an integral part of serving Inver Grove Heights students for 40 years," ISD 917 said in a statement. "Jill's vision and leadership in the B.E.S.T. Foundation served as a community builder while instilling significant pride in our school district and greater community. She inspired others to get involved to support students so they could excel. Her wit and determination made things happen for kids.

"Words cannot express how important she was to the Inver Grove Heights Schools and Intermediate School District 917 communities," the statement said.

Nugent said her mother was "proud of how the district expanded from the number of buildings when she started."

"She was also proud of the growth and the progress in services in special education and alternative learning that the district provided," her daughter said.

Lewis was also dedicated to playing the organ. She began playing the organ at age 12 and was still playing the organ at church services until two weeks before her death.

"She was devoted to family, faith and tradition," said Nugent. "She continued the tradition of her mother, who had played the organ at churches for 41 years."

Nugent said her mother was "very social."

"She loved to go out to eat with friends," she said. "Two or three times a day. She always knew the best spots."

In addition to her daughter, who lives in Elko New Market, Lewis is survived by a son, Mark Lewis of Elko New Market, six grandchildren, three great-grandchildren; two brothers, Bart Zehnder of Oakdale and David Zehnder of Mesquite, Nev., and a sister, Laurie, of Inver Grove Heights.

Lewis is also survived by Emma Bannister, her "British daughter." Bannister lived with Lewis as an exchange student during the 1990s and the two remained close. Bannister lives in Staffield, England.

A celebration of her life will be held later.

Joel Rippel • 612-673-4719