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Arnold Austin Willis
December 21, 1922 ~ August 26, 2023 (age 100) 100 Years Old
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Arnold A. Willis, age 100, passed away peacefully on Saturday, August 26, 2023, at Water’s Edge Care Center in Hayward, WI.
Arnold Austin Willis was born December 21, 1922, in Monroe, WI, the son of Virgil and Nora (Austin) Willis. He lived in New Diggings, WI, before moving to Platteville at age 5. He attended the old Brick Grade School and graduated from Platteville High School in 1940.
Arnold continued his education at Platteville Teachers College for two years. On September 14, 1942, Arnold enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and served during World War II. He flew 35 bombing missions over Europe from Molesworth, England, with the 303rd Bomb Group as the Tail Gunner in a Boeing B-17. He was awarded the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze stars and the good conduct medal. He also received the Distinguished Service Award as a member of the 303rd Bombardment Group (H) “Hell’s Angels” Combat Team, 8th Air Force.
On March 3, 1945, Arnold was joined in marriage to his high school sweetheart, Beth Klosterman. They enjoyed 78 years of marriage. Arnold was honorably discharged on October 20,1945, as Staff Sergeant. He returned to Platteville, and since he had always wanted to be a pharmacist, he and Beth headed for the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Beth worked as a nurse at Wisconsin General Hospital Orthopedic Hospital for Children while Arnold attended pharmacy school using the GI Bill.
Arnold graduated from University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy. He began a career as a pharmacist at Krebs Pharmacy in Evansville, WI, where he spent five years. Arnold then took a job at #6 Rennebohm Rexall Drug Store on the Square in Madison, WI. After spending five years with Rennebohm, he had the opportunity to return to Evansville, where he purchased Brown’s Drug Store at 7 W. Main St. He changed the name to Willis Rexall Drugs and operated the business for over twenty-five years. During that time, Arnold brought on a business partner, Larry Lauke, who operated the business with him. Arnold was a member of the Lions Club, served on the Evansville school board, and was a 50-year member of both the Order of the Eastern Star and Union Lodge #32. Larry and Arnold sold the store, and in 1986 Arnold retired.
Shortly after that, he and Beth began wintering in North Fort Myers, Florida, while spending their summers in Evansville, Wisconsin. In North Ft. Myers, they made many new friends and joined them in the tennis and golf associations, enjoying tennis particularly. He also enjoyed running, traveling, downhill skiing, and skiing two early Birkies. Arnold grew up in the Congregational Church in Platteville and was a lifelong member of Evansville Congregational United Church of Christ, which he joined in 1948.
Arnold is survived by his wife of 78 years, Beth; three children, David (Kimberly Ditz) Willis of Thief River Falls, MN, Ann Willis of Bayfield, WI, Carol Willis of Westminster, CA; two grandchildren, Sarah (Andrew Lapetina) Willis, Ben (Kirsten Carey) Willis; two great grandchildren, Esme and Althea Lapetina; and many nieces and nephews. He also is survived by three exchange students who became members of his family: Kursat Toprak and family of Turkey, Rainer Kaschel of Germany, and Rainer’s sister Ingrid; all of whom spent a year with the Willis family while attending Evansville High School. He was preceded in death by his parents, two sisters, and one brother.
There will be no public services for Arnold at this time. He will be cremated, and then buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Madison at a later date.
Memorials can be made to Evansville Congregational United Church or Christ, 112 Church St., Evansville, WI 53536 or Regional Hospice Services, 15910 W Company Lake Rd., Suite #3, Hayward, WI 54843.