Chesterton Tribune



Martha Lois Wilson Willis passes away at age 95

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Martha Lois Wilson Willis died peacefully on Saturday, August 17, 2019.

She was born July 6, 1924, the only child of Stuart Ehrgott Wilson and Lucia Showalter Wilson, in Indianapolis, Ind., both of whom preceded her in death.

Her family in Indiana goes back to 1826, and has contributed engineers, surveyors, teachers, ministers, and judges to the state.

She married Russell Anthony Willis, Jr., Sept. 12, 1949, in the Congregational Church in Indianapolis. He preceded her in death Oct. 19, 2002. They shared over 50 years of marriage.

The two met during their first week at Indiana University, Bloomington, in a student counselorís office because both their last names began with W.

They had five children, all of whom survive. Christopher L. Willis, of Portage; Russell A. Willis, III (Lisa Sagrati), of Tucson, Arizona; Lucius S. Willis (MaryBeth), of Vestal, N.Y.; Margaret L. Willis (David Canright), of Chesterton, and Edward H. Willis (Marc Molomot), of Bronx, N.Y.

Also surviving are grandchildren, Ahilya M. Willis, Vaishali F. Willis, Abigail M. Willis Canright, Sarah Austrin-Willis, and Benjamin Austrin-Willis.

The Willises also hosted five exchange students and one foster child over the years.

Martha was a graduate of Shortridge High School, Indianapolis, and went on to earn a Bachelorís degree in History and a Masterís degree in American History from Indiana University.

The couple lived in Indianapolis in their early marriage, during which time Martha was employed at the Indiana Historical Society. They then moved to Illinois, where Russell worked for Allstate Insurance, prior to establishing his law office in Portage, Ind., in 1960.

Martha followed in her parentsí footsteps in community activism. She and Russ were instrumental in establishing the Portage YMCA and worked together in creating and supporting the Portage Township Community Concert Association.

Martha served on the board of Porter-Starke Services for 25 years and was a Portage Township School Board member (1970-74). She also served on the board of the Kankakee Valley Workforce Development and the Portage Adult Education Advisory Board. Martha was active in the League of Women Voters, the General Federation of Womenís Club in Portage and Porter County, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, PTA, Portage Friends of the Library, and was a long-time Republican precinct committeeman. She also volunteered with the Red Cross Bloodmobile and Meals-on-Wheels. In her later years she served faithfully on the Portage Food Pantry board and as a weekly distribution volunteer, and at the Portage Historical Society Museum. She was also a member of the PEO sorority and the Mathesis Club.

In 1995, the Portage High School Honor Society named her an honorary member for her tireless efforts to help youth and the less fortunate. In 2010 NWI Quality of Life Council honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her years of community organizing and volunteer work.

Martha and Russ carried on Stuart and Lucia Wilsonís legacy of loyalty to Indiana University. In 2001, they established an ongoing fund to refurbish and maintain the large rotating globe in Ballantine Hall at IU, which her parents initially donated to the university in 1961.

In her teens she joined the Christian Science Church and was a regular attendee all her life. She was an avid reader of newspapers, particularly the Christian Science Monitor, enjoyed travel, reading, music, gardening, and brushing up on her French via the Internet. She sang for some years in the Valparaiso University Community Choir. She always had a dog and loved walking daily, especially in the area that is now Imagination Glen Park in Portage, the creation of which she advocated.

As her eyesight deteriorated she used magnifiers to keep up with a daily newspaper and listened to non-fiction audio books. She lived the last years of her life at the Millerís Assisted Living and the Millerís Merry Manor Nursing Home, where she received caring, cheerful, and loving care.

Martha will be interred at Calvary Cemetery alongside her husband, in a private family ceremony.

A celebration of her life will be held at a later date.

Memorial donations may be made to the Portage YMCA or the Visiting Nurse Association Hospice.

Arrangements are being handled by White-Love Funeral Home, Chesterton.


Posted 8/19/2019




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