By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It rained the morning of Sept. 8, but the sun peeked out in the afternoon, cheering the small group of people gathered at Resurrection Cemetery to say farewell to a young man they loved.
Robert G. Lewis, Jr., (Bobby) was 25, and according to his younger brother Joey, an attentive big brother, optimistic and free-spirited. He was living in Old Northeast, studying social work at UMKC, and working at a Sweet Tomatoes restaurant.
Bobby Lewis was the grandson of Sunday (Sunny) Lewis, whose ashes were discovered on the steps of St. Patrick parish’s office in late fall 2014. Her cremains were buried in Resurrection Cemetery in late January 2015 (The Catholic Key, Feb. 6, 2015).
A lifelong friend, Vanessa Muehlebach, shared Bobby’s story. Robert Gregory Lewis, Bobby’s father and Sunday Lewis’ son was born in 1969. At some point, Robert moved to Kansas City. He became friends with Vanessa Muehlebach. In 1989, the year before Bobby was born, Robert, his partner Tiffini and Vanessa moved to San Francisco together.
Vanessa recalled, “We lived together in one apartment and then as neighbors until Bobby was about 3. Tiffini and Robert split up about that time. I moved back to Kansas City, and Tiffini followed me several months later.” Vanessa used to babysit Bobby a lot and she missed him.
Bobby remained in San Francisco with Robert. Although by 1997 his grandmother had transferred her business to Las Vegas, she returned to San Francisco frequently and Bobby was able to spend many weekends and vacations with her. Vanessa said his “grandmother was Bobby’s favorite person and he definitely was grandma’s boy!”
Bobby would also visit his mother and Vanessa in Kansas City several times a year until he was about 7 or 8. Vanessa said around that time, “Robert began having problems and Tiff did a long stint in jail.”
Sunday Lewis died in 2004. Her cremains disappeared after a memorial service was held in Old St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco.
Vanessa recalled that communication between Robert, Bobby and herself was “on and off” for a number of years. When Bobby was 16 or 17, however, that changed. He contacted Vanessa and they began staying in touch consistently.
Tiffini had married and Joseph (Joey) Yowell was born about 1996. The couple split up, Vanessa said, when Joey was about two and his mother was basically out of his life. Joey was raised by his father and paternal grandmother.
In 2010 Bobby learned that Tiffini was again pregnant and, “moved to Kansas City to be part of the new baby’s life from day one.” Vanessa said. Before Anthony was born, Bobby sought out Joey. The 13-year old was entranced by his 20-year old big brother. Family was what he was all about, Joey recalled. “He introduced me to my mom, who I didn’t know until he brought us together.”
Bobby and Joey grew close and Bobby also developed a close connection to Anthony. “He was a very loving person,” Joey said.
Robert, whose girlfriend Sonia lived in Kansas City, returned to the area in 2012, shortly after their daughter Arianna was born.
Bobby’s relationship with his father wasn’t close, and both father and son struggled with mental health issues. Bobby embraced his relationships with Joey, Anthony and Arianna, however. He had dreams for his future and for his younger brothers and sister.
Those dreams ended January 2. Vanessa received a call from a friend with sad news. Bobby’s landlord had found him, the victim of an apparent accidental overdose of a prescribed medicine, in his apartment.
Vanessa took charge, contacted Charter Funerals in Kansas City and decided on cremation. Not long before Bobby died, Vanessa had been talking to Robert about Sunday Lewis. “Robert … mentioned to me that ‘a church helped with his mom.’ So, I Googled Sunday Lewis and Kansas City and the Catholic Key article, Her journey over, Sunday Lewis rests in peace, was the first result that came up! I kind of figured it was meant to be! I never would have found out about St. Patrick’s otherwise.”
The small group of friends held a memorial service for Bobby in February.
Vanessa called Resurrection Cemetery and Deacon Mike Lewis at St. Patrick’s for information and assistance, and began trying to raise some money to bury Bobby’s cremains. “I just started a GoFundMe,” she said. “I was hoping to raise enough to cover everything but that didn’t happen. A few friends of Bobby’s as well as friends of mine and his mother donated. Thankfully the church stepped in and helped.” Vanessa and friends raised enough to pay for a headstone for Bobby.
Deacon Lewis and Charlie Passantino of Passantino Brothers Funeral Home arranged to have the young man’s cremains buried in his grandmother’s grave at Resurrection Cemetery. On what would have been Bobby’s 26th birthday, Sept. 8, Vanessa, Joey and two other friends joined Deacon Lewis and Passantino under the tent at Resurrection to say farewell to him.
Deacon Lewis spoke briefly, saying, “We don’t preach death, we preach life. As Catholics we believe there is life after death, eternal life. We are gathered to commend Bobby to God and commit his ashes to the earth. We pray that Bobby will sleep here in peace until you, Lord, come again and he sees the face of Jesus. His friendship, his hope and laughter will stay with us in our memories.”
Joey, now 20, sat staring at the small container of Bobby’s ashes during the brief service. He told The Key that Bobby had been very important to him. “He tried to see me as much as possible. Bobby was very enthusiastic about life, and found joy in little things.” Both he and Vanessa said the overdose was out of character for Bobby, and are certain it was unintentional.
Passantino said Vanessa and her friends decided to purchase a separate marker for Bobby, and picked out one that matches his grandmother’s. The marker should be delivered and set in the next few months.
A contribution was made to St. Patrick’s food pantry by the small group of friends in Bobby’s memory, Deacon Lewis said.
Sunday Lewis and her grandson rest together now. And that made Vanessa and Joey smile.