James Ethan Willis, age 93 years, of Jefferson City, Mo., passed away unexpectedly at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital on Thursday, April 23, 2020.
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He was born on April 15, 1927 in a cabin built by his father in Macks Creek, Mo. He was the son of James R. and Mary (Baker) Willis. He was the youngest of six children and had five older sisters. James often talked about his older sisters doting on him. Their love for him taught him the value of caring for others. He was raised on his family farm, working along side his father. James always treasured those years growing up in Macks Creek.
He was married to the love of his life, Marjorie (Grimes) Willis, on October 28, 1956 at Greenfield, Mo. She preceded him in death on April 7, 2013.
A lifelong resident of the Central Missouri area, James graduated from Macks Creek High School in 1945. He then began his college career at Southwest Baptist College, where in 1952 he received an associate degree in education.
After graduation James enlisted in the United States Army, where he served in the 7th infantry, north of the 38th parallel, in North Korea during the Korean War. He was honorably discharged in 1954 as Sergeant First Class. While stationed in Korea, he started a makeshift school in a tent teaching his fellow soldiers to read and write.
After returning from Korea, he served in the Army Reserves for seven years. A proud veteran, he had the opportunity to participate in the Honor Flight in 2014, an experience he considers one of his greatest memories.
When he returned from the Korean War, James went back to school and attended Missouri State University (then Southern Missouri State University) in Springfield, Mo, graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. He later received his Master’s Degree in Social Work at the University of Missouri – Columbia in 1960. James went on to receive his PhD in Philosophy in 1968 from MU.
James started his professional career as a teacher in several one-room schools in Camden County. After returning from Korea and furthering his education, He began his career as a social worker. He was the director of Child Welfare in Laclede and Camden County in the late 1950’s. He and Marjorie with his children, Jeffrey and MaryAnn, moved to Jefferson City in the 1960’s to begin working with the Missouri Division of Family Services. Being a social worker was his passion for over 39 years, until he retired in 1989.
James accepted Jesus as his Lord in 1945 in an Assembly of God tent revival in Branch, Mo. He was shortly thereafter baptized in the Niangua River. James loved the Lord, and he read the Bible and spent time in Prayer every day of his life.
He was a member of the Macks Creek Masonic Lodge. He recently earned honors for being a member for 75 years. James was also a member of the Eastern Star, Victoria Chapter No. 14, for over 65 years, which was an activity he enjoyed with Marjorie.
James loved being outdoors and always enjoyed hunting, even raising his own hunting dogs. An avid reader, James loved to talk about how he was taught to read by his sister, Jewell, at a young age. He could always be found reading a book, sometimes up to 5 books a week. He enjoyed researching his family history and genealogy, and he wrote extensively about his family’s lineage. James was always active and healthy, and he could be seen riding his bike on the Katy Trail or walking at the Runge Nature Center (an activity he enjoyed until a year ago). He was a lifelong learner and loved watching current events and politics.
James was a true gentleman in every way and was a kind-hearted and honorable man. He was a man of his word. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather who loved his family with all his heart. He will be dearly missed. There will never be another like him.
Survivors include: his beloved daughter Mary Ann Willis of Jefferson City, Mo.; one daughter-in-law, Bird Willis of Carbondale, Il.; one brother-in-law, James Carl Grimes (Lil) of Branson Mo.; a Sister in Law, Sharlene Bennett Grimes of Lebanon Mo ; five grandchildren, Amber, James Matthew, Kelsey, Benjamin, and Jacob; one great-grandchild, Cheyanne; and he was a beloved uncle of many nieces and nephews.
James was preceded in death by his parents; his loving wife of 56 years, Marjorie Willis; one son, Jeffrey Wayne Willis who passed away in 2014; five sisters, Mella May Dibben, Stella Ann Sheek, Jewell Marie Clopp, Freda Berniece Tucker and one infant sister Ruby Dell Willis.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a private funeral service will be conducted in the Freeman Chapel with the Reverend Dr. Monte Shinkle officiating. Graveside services and interment will be held at Riverview Cemetery with military honors, where he will be laid to rest next to his dear wife Marjorie.
A webcast of the funeral service will begin at 12:45 p.m. Friday, May 1, 2020 for family and friends to view by going to the “photos and videos” tab on this page and scrolling down to the webcasting link. Friends may mail sympathy cards to the funeral home to be given to his family.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are suggested to the Central Missouri Honor Flight, 1400 Forum Blvd. Ste. 7-A, Box 334, Columbia, Mo. 65203.
Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Freeman Mortuary, 915 Madison Street, Jefferson City, Mo. 65101.