Larry C. Willis

Born: Fri., Feb. 28, 1941
Died: Sun., Jun. 16, 2013


4:00 PM to 8:00 PM, Thu., Jun. 20, 2013
Location: Ranfranz and Vine Funeral Homes

Funeral Service

11:00 AM Fri., Jun. 21, 2013
Location: Gloria Dei Lutheran Church

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ROCHESTER -  Larry C. Willis, 72, died Sunday, June 16, 2013 at home after a hard fought battle with pancreatic cancer.

Larry was born in Iowa Falls, IA on February 28, 1941 to Clyde and Hazel (Dellinger) Willis.  He married Kaye Parker, his college sweetheart, on December 21, 1963 at Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, MN.

Larry graduated from Clarion High School, Clarion, IA in 1959. He was involved in many activities and lettered in 3 sports; football, wrestling and baseball. His favorite sport in high school was wrestling and he was captain of the team. He won many tournaments, was unbeaten in his conference, and in his junior and senior year he qualified for the State tournament, winning an Iowa High School Championship in 1959. He was named an All-American.

He went on to attend Winona State College, (now WSU), where he was on a college scholarship for wrestling and lettered four years. He won many tournaments in college and placed 4th in the NAIA National Wrestling Tournament his sophomore year. He was twice captain of the team in college, named to Michigan Tech's “All-Opponent Team” and an All-American. Larry was involved in many other activities while in college and, in his senior year, he was inducted into, “Who's Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges”.

He started his teaching career in 1963 at Bamber Valley School where he taught elementary and was assistant principal for several years. Following Bamber Valley he taught at Churchill, and later Churchill-Hoover. He went on to pursue a Master's Degree in 1967 from the University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, Colorado, and later his Education Specialist Equivalency at WSU. While teaching in 1976, he was selected as “An Outstanding Leader in Elementary and Secondary Education”.

Sports were Larry's main hobbies. He was active in the past in bowling, golf, church softball league, hunting, fishing, and motorcycling with Kaye. His best golf experience happened when he was 65 years old and hit an albatross, (hole in one on a par 4), at 277 yards, on hole number 10 at Soldier's Field Golf Course. He also was active in the past in the YMCA Big Brother program. He thoroughly enjoyed taxiing his grandchildren, watching them play sports, participating in school and church functions, plus spending time playing with them at the Rochester Athletic Club. The “breakfast club” at HyVee was another enjoyment, along with yearly fishing trips with friends and colleagues, yearly mini-reunions with friends from Clarion, IA and the monthly card club.

During retirement Larry researched, compiled a booklet, and distributed copies of the history of Clarion High School wrestling from 1924-2011. It lists State and Team championships plus place winners. After 2 years of working on this project he then researched and compiled a list of All American NAIA tournament wrestling winners and place winners from Winona State University 1956-1978. The latter is displayed on a creative poster in the Athletic Hall of Fame at WSU along with an old warm-up of Larry's. He was a great fan and follower of high school and college wrestling, especially MN and IA.

He held a lifelong membership in the National Education Association, was a member of the MEA, REA, and was a vice president of the Southeast Rural Educators Association. Larry and his family are all members of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

Larry will be remembered for his fun-loving personality, intelligence, dedication to family and his teaching profession, energy level, repairman skills, plus his wonderful outlook on life even during his illness.
Larry's family would like to especially thank Jessica Mitchell, CPN, all the nurses on Mayo Gonda 10, and Mayo Hospice for their wonderful care, as well as niece Kim. Your kindness will never be forgotten.

Larry is survived by his wife Kaye, two children, Sally (Matt) Willis-Oeltjen and Jane (Brett) Willis-Ness, all of Rochester; four grandchildren, Taylor, Katie, Brendan, Colin; one step grandson, Jacob and a nephew, Robert McBurney. Larry was preceded in death by his parents; a sister, Joyce; and a brother-in-law, Russ.

A Memorial Service will be held at 11:00am Friday, June 21, 2013 at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 1212 12th Ave. NW, Rochester, MN with Rev. Dr. Charles Ortloff officiating.  Visitation will be from 4:00-8:00pm Thursday, June 20, 2013 at Ranfranz and Vine Funeral Home, 5421 Royal Place NW, Rochester and an hour prior to the service at the church.  Burial will take place at Oakwood East Cemetery.

Memorials can be directed to Pancreatic Cancer Research at Mayo, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, or donor's choice. To share a special memory or condolence, please visit

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   Posted Tue June 18, 2013
I was deeply saddened to hear that Mr. Willis had passed away. My thoughts are with his family during this time.

I was fortunate to have Mr. Willis for a teacher during his last year, before his much anticipated retirement. He had a gift for teaching, and was able to bring humor to many of his lessons. Even though a majority of his "logical thinking" papers were copies from the 70's, they still taught us a valuable life lesson on how to approach problems from a different angle.

I still have to bite my tongue to avoid saying, "Would you like some cheese and crackers with that whine?"

I'm very sorry for your loss.

Penny Fritsch
   Posted Tue June 18, 2013
I am sorry to hear about the passing of such a wonderful man. I first got to know Mr. Willis as a teacher on the 6th grade team (I had a different teacher), then 13 years later as I student taught with his fellow 5th grade teacher. He was a great resource for a beginning teacher and was so caring. I think some of my best memories are since I moved from Rochester. I would go to breakfast with my mom's breakfast group and see him often. Larry and I would talk shop and I loved his continued compassion for education even after he retired. God bless to a man who inspired so many children of Rochester. May his memory live on.

Ruth Rothschild
   Posted Tue June 18, 2013
I'm so sorry to hear of Larry's passing. My deepest condolences to the Willis family. Please know that you are in my thoughts at this difficult time.

During the 1994-95 school year, I had the honor of working directly in Larry's classroom at Hoover Elementary School as an interpreter for one of his students who is deaf. That was the best and most fun year of all of my years as an interpreter in the Rochester School System. Larry's wonderful sense of humor and dedication to his students shone through each and every day. He welcomed the interpreters into his classroom, treated us with respect and kindness, and considered us a part of his "classroom family" and always included us in various classroom activities. For example, he was always insistent that I participate in the frequent kickball and dodge ball games he and the class played, not allowing me to sit out because he told me that I was a part of the class and needed to play. Larry would also often tell jokes in the hopes of getting the interpreters to laugh. I remember the day that one of his jokes was so funny that I actually burst out laughing in the middle of interpreting for the student and had to turn my back to the class while I regained my composure. Larry's response to the class was, "FINALLY, I got the interpreter to laugh at one of my jokes. Do you know how long I've been trying?" :-) I will always cherish the memories of working in Larry's class and having the honor to have worked alongside a great guy and a great teacher.

Over the years, Larry and I saw each other fairly often, usually at Hy-Vee or at the Rochester Athletic Club. We had many great conversations and he was always interested in what was going not only in my life, but also in the life of my daughter who had Larry as a 4th grade teacher at Hoover. My daughter always quoted Larry's famous "Do you want some cheese with that whine?", and we still laugh about his saying. I will miss the many conversations we had over the years.

Larry, may you rest in peace. Your memory will live on. Thanks for that wonderful year in your classroom.

Ruth Rothschild

Donny Schultz
   Posted Tue June 18, 2013
My condolences go out to you Kaye and to all of yours and Larry's family. Kaye was my health teacher and Larry was all of the Schultz family teacher at Bamber valley elementary school. Last time I seen Larry is when Kaye and him came to my mom Diane Schultz "Schultzies" wake at ranfranz on his motorcycle with Kaye to pay last respects.

Robin Roesch
   Posted Tue June 18, 2013
I was so sorry to hear Mr. Willis had passed away. He was my 6th grade teacher at Bamber Valley and I have never forgotten him. School was never my favorite thing but he made it fun while still managing to teach me some things.We had a fun group in that grade and Mr. Willis loved it and had fun right along with us. He was my favorite teacher and a wonderful guy.

Mark LePage
   Posted Tue June 18, 2013
I was told by my father today that Larry had passed away; my sincerest condolences to his family and friends.
I had the incredible luck of having Larry as a teacher in 6th Grade at Bamber Valley. He was a very influential teacher for me. I remember him being no-nonsense, direct, and humorous. I was very much into art at that time and Larry encouraged me to develop my skills. I remember him vividly, telling me to go work on some picture I was drawing, while the rest of the class was doing an assignment. I don't think I was singled out for this. He personalized his teaching for many other students as well. In hindsight, with what I saw from my class, I'm sure he made a substantial impact on the lives of all the children he has taught.

Brian Nordine
   Posted Wed June 19, 2013
I am saddened by learning of the passing of Larry. Although I didn't know him well, if he was anything like you, he was a remarkable person.
My most heartfelt condolences go out to you and you family.


Chris Reid
   Posted Wed June 19, 2013
I'm the deaf student mentioned by Ruth Rothschild. I went to visit Larry and Kaye (feels kinda strange to call a former teacher by his first name), and Larry seemed to be doing really well last time I saw him so I was surprised to hear of his passing. Unfortunately I can't be there to pay my respects in person but I will be there in spirit and all of his family will be in my thoughts. He was definitely one of my favorite teachers and I have lots of memories of being in his classroom. One thing I remember is he would give tough spelling tests and when another student aced a spelling test, he bought her a pop. I was a pretty smart kid myself and aced a spelling test not long after that and of course I wanted a pop too. When I went up to him and told him I had aced his test, he acted like I was making it up. Maybe it's because I spilled glue all over his desk drawer during a classroom project. :)

Larry, you still owe me a pop and if we ever cross paths again in whatever life's next great adventure may be, I might have to hold you to it. May you rest in peace, and thanks again for a great year!

Shelly (Klein) Frischmann
   Posted Wed June 19, 2013
Mr. Willis was also my favorite teacher. As a 4th grader with a very popular and smart older brother (Bob) who had also been taught by Mr. Willis, I was always looked on as "Bob's sister" by everyone and often felt in his shadow. Mr. Willis saw me as someone with potential of my own and encouraged me to challenge myself to achieve more, putting me in advanced classes in reading and math when my 3rd grade teacher had recommended that I be in lower levels. He was always there to tell you be believed in you even when you didn't believe in yourself.

Linda Shillington McGrath
   Posted Wed June 19, 2013
Sending out prayers and sympathy from the Shillington family members of Clarion. Larry, Vince Hansen, Jack Cullinan, and several others used to bale hay, etc. for our dad when we lived south of Clarion. Dad always enjoyed all of them and thought a lot of Larry and the others. Larry was a couple of years ahead of me in school and yes, a very good wrestler. He will be missed by so many.

lisa oeltjen
   Posted Thu June 20, 2013
My dearst Uncle Larry and family

I am so vey saddend by the loss of my Uncle Larry. I want you all to know how much your family will always be part of my life! Uncle Larry, Aunt Kaye, Sally, and Jane; I remember how much I and Julie could not wait to come to your house almost every summer.
You know that Sally and Jane were not just my cousins, but more like sisters to Julie and I. I remeber how we spent many summers at your house. Uncle Larry tried to teach me to ice skate (to this day I still am very horrible at it) I also remeber Uncle Larry chasing us down th sidewak on the 3-wheeler, telling us to stop.----But after the day was done, my Aunt Kaye and my Uncle Larry would take all of us (me, Julie, Sally, Jane) and sit and then "tuck us in" for the night.

My heart hurts but I also know that through his love and memories, I became a better person, I will always miss him and never forget him!

with all my love and respect
Lisa Oeltjen

Pat Plunkett
   Posted Thu June 20, 2013
I am another student of "Mr. Willis" - Bamber Valley, 6th grade, 1965-66. I found him so engaging and encouraging, I will always remember him fondly. I particularly remember him reading aloud to our class, fun adventure books that gave us a break and got me interested in reading. He just seemed like such a good guy, it was great to feel that way about a teacher. I am sorry to hear someone so vibrant and involved on such a positive level was not in the world longer. My sincere condolences.

Luke Sullivan
   Posted Thu June 20, 2013
So saddened by his passing. He was my 6th grade teacher at Bamber Valley in the year of '65-'66. He was my favorite teacher of my elementary years, maybe of all my school years. Love you, Mr. Willis. RIP.

Julie Rodakowski
   Posted Mon June 24, 2013
Kaye and the rest of Larry's family:

So sorry to read about Larry's passing in the PB. Although I had not met Larry, it sounds as if he was an active and wonderful guy. Savor the memories.

Julie Rodakowski

Image: Susie B /