CINCINNATI — Carolyn Smith paid Captain Windy the ultimate honor.
“Thanks for the memories. I even named one of my daughters after you,” Smith said on a Facebook post after Wanda Lewis – known as “Captain Windy” to several generations of admiring Tri-Staters – died this week at the age of 94.
For 35 years and 14,000 shows, Lewis teamed with her husband, Al Lewis, to star in one of the nation’s longest-running TV kids shows – the “Uncle Al Show – on WCPO. The couple entertained a studio full of kids and thousands more watching at home with music, stories, fun and games between 1950 and 1985.
Bobbi Feinauer Combs remembered Captain Windy’s kindness when she appeared on the show as a 4-year-old just before Thanksgiving.
“I was chosen to be dressed up and play the part of the turkey for the feast (but) 4-year-old me became terrified when the other children seemed intent on EATING the turkey!” Combs said in one of nearly 300 tributes to Captain Windy on WCPO's Facebook page.
“Captain Windy recognized my terror and came to my aid. Then, to make up for it, I also got to ride in the 'helicopter' as a birthday guest, even though it wasn’t my birthday. As we all filed out at the end of the show, she handed me an extra marshmallow ice cream cone.”
Many who attended the show still have photos they kept as cherished mementos.
WATCH highlights of Captain Windy and Uncle Al from WCPO's "Uncle Al Through The Years" in 1989:
“My husband was on the show when he was small and still has the picture,” said Joni Carter. “My daughter was on the show when she was 3 and I have the picture.”
“I took 2 of my kids to the show in the early 60s. Still have the picture,” said Phyllis Strickland Hamilton.
While Uncle Al got top billing, Captain Windy, with her bright, warm smile and engaging personality, made just as many lifelong fans.
“My wife was on the show when she was about 4 years old and Captain Windy held her,” said Mark Davis.
“She was one sweet lady,” said Chris Rankin.
Captain Windy and Uncle Al, who died in 2009, were as popular and impactful to Tri-State kids as Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street to later generations.
“Went to the show in 1955. What a great kids show,” said Janet Herzog. “Thanks for the memories.”
“You have no idea how you impacted our children when they were young,” said Eileen Overbeck.
“Thank you for all the great childhood memories! I adored your show when I was growing up,” said Betty Houze. “It's sad that we don't have programs like that anymore.”
Wanda’s former WCPO co-workers also reflected on her charm and talents.
WATCH Wanda Lewis dance and draw on the "Paul Dixon Show" in the early 1950s:
“She was quiet. She didn’t talk a lot, and that’s how she got the name Captain Windy,” said Paula Jane Watters. “They joked about the fact that she was so quiet. She didn’t get windy.”
“I got my twin daughters on the show,” Wayne Chaney remembers. He recalled crowds of kids clamoring to be near Captain Windy.
“The children adored her,” Watters said. “Not just on the show, but she made an impact when the cameras were off, too.”
Wanda Lewis brought many talents to WCPO when it first went on the air in 1949. She worked there until `1989.
"Wanda was a very talented artist in her own right,” said Jim Timmerman, former producer/director and program manager at WCPO. “Many may have thought of her as a sidekick to Uncle Al Lewis. Not so.
“She would create much of the artwork used on Channel 9 in the early days. Wanda also would host, sing, dance and act along Cincinnati television pioneers Paul Dixon, Len Goorian, Nick Clooney and others.
“In 1949 television was live, all the time. She helped make sure the show went on, even when problems behind the scenes made it difficult, because she remained calm.
“Those of us who were lucky enough to work with Wanda are so much better.”
Wanda and Al raised four daughters on their 200-acre farm in Hillsboro, Ohio. They had 13 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Reflecting on her career in a 1989 WCPO 9 special, Wanda said: "You're working so hard, and so busy, that the years go by, and you don't realize what a fantastic life it has been until you stop and look back, and say, 'Gee, it was fantastic. That was great. Wasn't it fantastic?’”
Services will be private because of the pandemic.
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