Joseph Lewinger was known as the calm, even-keeled guy who wasn't easily rattled and always put his family and community first.
But Lewinger jumped up and down — fists in the air — when The Mary Louis Academy girls varsity team knocked powerhouse Christ the King off its Catholic girls basketball championship run.
"He was just so passionate and motivated for that team," said friend Billy Schoeffel, 46, of Garden City South. "He was so easygoing until you saw him at one of those playoff games."
Lewinger, 42, spent 20 years rising through the ranks at the Catholic institution: first as girls basketball coach, then athletic director and most recently assistant Principal at the school in Jamaica Estates, Queens.
The married father of three from Garden City South was a Franklin Square school board trustee for five years, serving as board President in 2016. He died Saturday night after having been in the hospital for weeks fighting a coronavirus-related illness.
"Joe was the definition of a family man," said Schoeffel, who has fond memories of bringing their daughters to Mets games and concerts. "He loved his wife more than anything — they just had a special relationship. He put family and community above his own interests always."
As a Franklin Square school board trustee, Lewinger helped support the introduction of the district’s prekindergarten program and helped improve many other programs and resources for the district's students, teachers and staff, officials said.
“Mr. Lewinger cared deeply about our district; he cared deeply about our community; he believed in our kids," a statement posted on the district website said.
"While the loss of any life to this terrible virus is tragic, the passing of one of our own hits us particularly hard," the statement continued.
Fellow trustee William Leder said Lewinger appreciated the teachers in the district most. Lewinger was motivated to serve his school district particularly after the support teachers and staff showed his daughter during her cancer treatment, Leder said.
"He was so impressed by the love the district showed his family during their difficult time they he felt like he needed to give back," Leder said. "It was just invaluable to have an educator like Joe on our school board."
Friends and family on Sunday remembered Lewinger as a constant presence at barbecues, Christmas parties and school events. He was completely devoted to giving all children a good education, not just his own children, they said.
"He always made you feel loved," said Elli Ehrenkranz, 47, a longtime family friend and teacher in the district. "No matter what you were talking about, he always listened to your stories and made you feel connected."
Ken Ehrenkranz, 49, also a teacher in the district said one of the reasons Lewinger was a great educator was because "he brought out the best in people."
"We are devastated. It was an honor to have him in our lives as long as we did," Ehrenkranz said.
His death shocked the Garden City South community and has been especially sad for friends and family because they are not able to mourn him together while funerals and public gatherings are prohibited to contain community transmission of the novel coronavirus that claimed Lewinger.
On Sunday evening, the family issued a statement thanking friends and family for their support while urging people to maintain social distancing and other public health measures in effect.
"The outpouring from family and friends, and so many of Joe's current and former students that have shared their memories, photos and videos of their special times with their beloved teacher/coach/assistant Principal is a testament to the truly amazing impact Joe made on everyone he met. While my children cannot be with you during this sad time, know that they still feel your love and the embrace of your arms around them. Please take care of yourselves and your families."
In addition to his wife, Maura, and their three children, Madison, Jack and Maeve, Lewinger is survived by his parents, Joseph and Rosemarie Lewinger of Brooklyn; and sister, Denise Lewinger, and her fiance, Michael Neftaly of Garden City.
There are no memorial arrangements and the family is requesting no flowers.