Lewis J. Newton, who swam with Tarzan and played ball with The Rifleman before founding a traveling Long Island amusement company, died Tuesday at the Stony Brook Long Island State Veterans Home. He was 92.
Lewis J. Newton & Sons thrived because of Newton's talent for befriending people, son Michael Newton said. "He just had a gift, everybody liked him and he helped everybody he ever met," he said.
The Brooklyn native and longtime Northport resident was a lifelong swimmer. He trained at the same Brooklyn swimming pool as Johnny Weissmuller, who was an Olympic gold medal swimmer before becoming the first Tarzan.
And "he did play ball with The Rifleman, Chuck Connors, who grew up right around the corner," said son John Newton, referring to the 1950s-60s television show.
Newton, a boatswain's mate in the Navy during World War II, in 1945 married an accomplished synchronized swimmer, Viola Joyce McDonald, who is known as Joy.
After the war, Newton installed insulation at Western Electric Company, and began a business supplying prizes to church bazaars.
In 1949, a Brooklyn priest asked him to find a Ferris wheel to rent. Newton invested all his savings of $9,300 in a Ferris wheel that arrived in pieces.
"I couldn't tell what I was looking at," Newton told Newsday in 1997. "So I drove over to Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey and asked the guy who ran the wheel there if he could help me . . . He saved my life," he said.
A few years later, Newton left Western Electric and the family moved to Northport.
"My mother never suggested I be a carnie," Newton said. "But it turned out pretty good."
The company, which supplies amusement rides to nonprofit events, is run by sons Michael and John.
Msgr. Jim Vlaun, president of the Catholic television station Telecare TV, said in a statement the firm had raised millions of dollars for churches. He added: "He had the ability to bring entire communities together."
In addition to his wife and sons, Newton is survived by daughters Maryann of Buffalo and Carol of Lenox, Mass.; two other sons, Robert of Northport and James of East Northport; sister Marjorie Ann Goeller of Kinnelon, N.J.; 16 grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.
The wake is Monday from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home in Northport. The funeral Mass is 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Church of St. Philip Neri, Northport. Burial is private.