Barbara Willets passed away at 4:50 a.m. Friday, May 5, at St. Luke’s Hospice House in Kansas City, MO. She was 93.
Barbara had lived in Bishop Spencer Place, Kansas City, MO, since December of 2016. Previously she lived 57 years in Wichita, KS, where she raised a family, made many friends, and lived a remarkable and active live. She was a member of University Congregational Church in Wichita until her move to Kansas City.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Bill, who passed away in 1988 and her son, Steve, in 2011. She is survived by two sons, Bill (wife Julie), of Kansas City, MO, and Larry (wife Ellen), of Lawrence, KS; four grandchildren, Nick Willets, Denver, CO, Cody Willets, Portland, OR, Rebecca Sindel (husband Mike), Leawood, KS, and Emily Willets (wife Laurin), Prairie Village, KS; and two great grandchildren, Roman and Sophie Sindel, both of Leawood, KS.
Barbara was born Nov. 11, 1923 in St. Paul, MN, and moved a short time later to Kansas City, MO. She entered the public school system at age 4 and graduated from Henry C. Kumpf Elementary School in 1935. She then attended Paseo High School, graduating in 1939.
After high school she held several secretarial/administrative jobs in Kansas City and lived in a boarding house on Prospect Ave. It was during this time that she met Bill, her future husband, who was in the U.S. Navy. They were married on May 2, 1944 and moved to San Diego, CA. Bill eventually was promoted to Chief Petty Officer and aboard the USS Essex was part of the crew that earned a Presidential Unit Citation for bravery during various missions from 1943 to 1945.
After Bill’s discharge from military service, he and Barbara returned to the Kansas City area and he found work at Simmons Mattress Co. in the Fairfax district of KCK. Their first child, Bill, was born in 1946. Bill then became a salesman for the company with assignments in Pueblo, CO; Springfield, MO; Grand Rapids, MI; and finally in Wichita. They had two other sons, Larry, born in 1951, and Steve, in 1952.
While in Wichita, Barbara was a homemaker first but had several other significant accomplishments. She became interested in bowling, serving as a youth instructor, helping with the administration of several leagues, and took up bowling herself. Over the years, she bowled on a team that won a Wichita city championship. She continued to bowl until age 90 when arthritis made it difficult to continue. In her last game she bowled 206, a game in which she had five consecutive strikes.
Another hobby she enjoyed was golf and she participated in several leagues and made many golf trips with friends. The highlight of her golfing career came on July 12, 2005 when she made a hole in one on the Par 3 No. 7 hole at Braeburn Golf Club in Wichita. She was 82 at the time.
Another of Barbara’s passions was mental health and she served many years as a volunteer for the Wichita chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness and received many awards from that organization.
Barbara was also an active member for many years in the Purple Ladies Investment Club. Before the club dissolved in 2017 it had made consistently profitable investments. She was an avid reader and even until her final days seldom was without a book to read. She taught herself how to use a personal computer when in her 60s. A daily pastime was solving the various crossword and other puzzles in the local newspaper.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Barbara’s life was not the things she accomplished but the way she went about accomplishing them. She was a very intelligent person and, had circumstances been different, had the skills and aptitude to succeed in other walks of life in addition to volunteer activities, raising her children and running her household while her husband was traveling. Yet she never complained. She simply went about her life doing what she could to help others and was never bitter about what might have been.
Barbara was quiet, modest and generous with a wonderful sense of humor, especially when it came to understanding and appreciating one son’s jokes. Most people who met her would have no idea what a strong person she really was. She developed independence and self-reliance, having been raised by a single mother during the depression. Her perseverance was evident later in life as she went through breast cancer and double mastectomies. She never complained as she cared for a son with mental illness, her aging mother, and her husband, whom she nursed through his own death of lung cancer.
She benefitted greatly from good genes, living completely on her own from 1988 into her 90s, yet appearing both physically and mentally to be a woman perhaps twenty years younger.
In the end it took a lung cancer diagnosis to stop her or she would have likely lived as long as her mother, who died at age 99.
All in all, her life was one of dignity, class, and grace. She touched many people along the way and will always be remembered by those who knew her as the amazing woman she was.A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 22 at the Old Mission Wichita Park Cemetery, 3424 E. 21st St., Wichita, KS. Memorials to Asana Hospice or St. Luke’s Hospice House.