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Mantecan telling story of woman founder of food processing empire
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Kyle Tobin-Williams is writing a book on Tillie Lewis. - photo by GLENN KAHL/The Bulletin

Tillie Lewis – a remarkable woman – is the theme of a presentation Kyle Tobin-Williams is making before the Manteca Rotary Club at its regular Thursday meeting on Nov. 12.

She was the first woman to operate a cannery – Lewis Flotill Products in Stockton.  During World War II her firm became the largest producer of C-rations for the U.S. Army.  By 1951 Flotill Products, later taking on the name of Tillie Lewis Foods, was bringing in some $30 million a year.

The firm was also canning fruits, vegetables, baby food and frozen juices.

Williams a former Manteca real estate professional went back to college to complete her dream of becoming an elementary school teacher while researching the history of Lewis and her tomato processing firm.  She now holds a lifetime teaching credential in addition to her real estate license.

It is with that research that she will soon fill the pages of her book as well as sharing it with Manteca Rotarians at Isadore’s Restaurant.  Williams’ dogged determination to become a teacher and to dig out the information for her manuscript is a character trait shared with Lewis in her drive to succeed.

“It is my intention to inform the Rotarians that the only thing truly special about Tillie Lewis was her determination to succeed when faced with poverty, racism and even serious hatred.  (She was a Jewish businesswoman in a time of serious discrimination.)   I hope to infect my listeners with a bit of Tillie in these difficult times many of us are now facing,” she said.

She said she is concerned that Tillie Lewis has been lost to mainstream history. She intends to put her back where she belongs through her coming book.

Williams added that many of the men and women who worked for Lewis in her processing plants in the Central Valley truly became her family, and have remained loyal to her today, 32 years after her death.

In her presentation she will include photographs of Lewis from childhood, to being a glamour girl to her being featured in Life Magazine.  She was named as one of America’s 200 Most Remarkable Women at that time in history.

She is also bringing Tillie Lewis artifacts such as her leopard coat that she wore at the dedication of Tillie Lewis Drive, her brief case, playing cards and a World War II shopping token.