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Well-known community philanthropist Lewis ‘Sonny’ Bass dies

Published: Dec. 12, 2020 at 9:32 AM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A well-known community philanthropist, and the last living co-founder of Humana has died of COVID-19.

Because of COVID-19, Lewis "Sonny" Bass's wife was not allowed to be with him during his final...
Because of COVID-19, Lewis "Sonny" Bass's wife was not allowed to be with him during his final moments. They said goodbye via Facetime.(Family photo)

Lewis “Sonny” Bass passed away at Baptist East Hospital. He was 99-years-old.

Bass played three seasons on the UofL football squad (1940-42), where he was a blocking back on offense and a strongside linebacker for the Cards defense. He also played two years of basketball.

He and his wife of 74-years, Gladys, said their goodbyes via Facetime. She is recovering from COVID-19 at home.

His full obituary can be read below.

Louisville native Lewis “Sonny” Bass passed away from Covid at age 99 years old at Baptist East Hospital.

Sonny was a Louisville original and community treasure - entrepreneur, philanthropist, community leader, University of Louisville supporter, Kentucky Colonel, amateur magician, competitive athlete, softball coach for over 30 years at the Jewish Community Center, mentor and friend to many and always ready to lend his opinion on making you a better person.

Most importantly, he was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather. He loved to travel the world with Gladys, his wife and best friend of 74 years, and family, and enjoyed every minute of it.

His family was the most important part of his life.

Born on June 5, 1921 Sonny lived in the West End at 10th and Walnut and loved helping his parents run the Joe Bass Men’s Clothing Store and proud of his upbringing and the friends he made there before moving to the highlands.

Sonny graduated from Male High School in 1938 then spent one year at Western Military Academy in Alton, IL, where he played football and basketball. He was an alumnus of Miami University of Oxford, Ohio, and the University of Louisville where he was a three-year football letterman (‘40-’41-’42) and a two-year letterman in basketball (‘40-’41).

Sonny served in the Air Force for three years during World War II, seeing overseas duty at the Air Transport Command in Kunming, China.

In the summer 1946 Sonny was with friends in Cincinnati and saw an old friend, Herschel Lowenthal, with a very pretty young lady, his sister, Gladys. Long story short they were married shortly thereafter and they just celebrated their 74th anniversary this past October 20th.

When he returned to Louisville he partnered with his first cousin, Charles Weisberg, to co-found Bass & Weisberg Realtors in 1952, which he managed for 30 years. Originally showing homes by taking the bus.

Sonny was a co-founder along with David Jones, Wendell Cherry and Charles Weisberg originally of Heritage House of America in 1961 which started as a nursing home business, later to become the country’s largest (41) and changed the name to Extendicare and then sold them in 1972 to focus on hospitals.

In 1974, the name was changed for the last time to HUMANA to better reflect it’s mission, eventually selling the hospitals and remaining in the insurance business.

Sonny served on Humana’s board for several decades as the company grew to a healthcare industry leader and Fortune 500 company as it is today.

He also was a partner in Associated Theatres, which grew to 60 screens in the region. He was an astute investor and businessman, and helped mentor many Louisvillian’s with their business careers and always ready to give advice from his experiences.

Sonny was an accomplished tennis player and played competitively into his golden years. He was ranked #1 in senior tennis in Kentucky for 10 years in singles and doubles, won a gold medal at the Maccabi Games in Israel in 1986 and played on

Louisville’s Volvo Tennis Team won a national championship in 1989..

An accomplished amateur magician, Sonny loved teaching children magic at Maryhurst, Brooklawn, Boy’s and Girl’s Haven and Junior Achievement, organizations that he also supported financially. He was a member of the Louisville Magic Club; the Ft. Lauderdale and Boca Raton Magic Clubs in Florida; and was a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Society of American Magicians.

To his final day, Sonny loved making people smile and was known for making little dogs out of Mardi Gras beads for every restaurant hostess, server and any person he ran into, or showing them a quick card trick…just to have them smile…as he use to preach that it only takes a minute to give a little joy and see a smile.

He was a donor and served on the boards of The Jewish Community Center, University of Louisville, Bellarmine University, Louisville Rotary Club, the Arthritis Foundation and the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

A huge supporter of University of Louisville, along with Mason Rudd, Sonny and Gladys donated the seed money for UofL’s Bass-Rudd Tennis Center, the first sports facility built in Cardinal Park on campus.

The couple’s support for UofL continued over the years such as the generous gifts of the UofL chimes in the clock tower on campus, the 6ft bronze Cardinal bird, UofL’s mascot, welcoming students to the Student Activity Center and a major gift in 2008 towards the

“Gladys and Lewis “Sonny” Bass” Family Scholar House on Hill St. close to the UofL’s campus.

Sonny and Gladys truly loved hosting the University of Louisville basketball and football players at their home for many years, and continued to mentor a lot of these players till his final days.

Sonny was a member of the Male High School, University of Louisville Athletics and Jewish Community Center Sports Halls-of-Fame.

He earned UofL’s Hickman-Camp Award and Male High’s Distinguished Alumni in 1994 and was named Kentucky Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation Humanitarian of the Year.

He was a member of Standard Country Club, Cardinal Golf Club and Boca Tecca Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, and The Jewish Community Center. Sonny was also a member of The Temple and Adath Jeshurun Synagogues.

Sonny loved his family foremost and proud of all of them. He was a blessed man and the family was blessed to have him as their Patriarch.

Sonny is survived by his loving wife of 74 year, Gladys.

Sons: Mitchel (Delores) of Parkland, Florida; Steve (Terri) and Ned of Louisville.

Grandchildren: Richard (Stacy) of Miami, FL; Nikki (David Walker) of Raleigh, NC; Jodie; Dr. Heather Bass Zamanian (Kaveh); Anna-Bass-Wilson (Cara), Joel Richardson (Sherry) and Ben; All of Louisville; Elle Woodruff (Suzy) of San Diego, CA; Jason Gunoe (Dawn) of Canel Winchester, Ohio and great-grandchildren Henri, Lily and Bella Zamanian of Louisville.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Joe and Anna Bass and his grandson, Elliott Joseph Bass.

A special thanks to Michelle and Larry Smith who were wonderful caregivers and to his amazing personal physician, Dr. Carmel Person.

Also, Dr. Gary Fuchs and Dr. Britt Brockman.

Also the wonderful nurses and doctors at Baptist East dealing with Covid.

Sonny requested that donations be made to the Gladys and Lewis Bass Family Scholar House, CASA, Maryhurst, Gilda’s Club of Louisville or donor’s favorite charity.

Due to Covid there will be a private burial.

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