Life Story / Obituary
WILLIS, MARILYN DAWN (WAGNER), Hart, MI. It is with great sadness
the family of Marilyn Dawn Willis announce the passing of our loving
and devoted mother, grandmother, and friend at the Poppen Hospice
Residence with her family by her side. Marilyn left this world on August
5, 2019, at the age of 87, following a valiant battle against the
complications of diabetes and chronic renal disease.
Marilyn was born October 18, 1931 in Hudsonville, Michigan as the only
child of the late John Russel Wagner and Mildred Elizabeth Edson. Her
love of farming (and radishes) started on the “muck farm” where she
spent her early years. Although an only child, Marilyn’s family were
among the earliest settlers to the Hudsonville area, and she grew up
with the company of many Aunts and Uncles, cousins and friends.
Along with many of her contemporaries, Marilyn grew up to be a
lifelong fan of swing era music. Perhaps because she played saxophone
in her high school and college marching bands, Boots Randolph and his
Yakety Sax was a particular favorite. She also developed an eye for
painting and decorative arts.
After graduating from Western Michigan University, Marilyn taught as
an elementary school teacher for five years. She married the late
Joseph Grant Willis on September 15, 1954 at her parents’ home in
Fruitport. Together, they acquired and operated “The Berries”
blueberry farm in Nunica and Fruitport, Michigan for many years. They
were a long-time seasonal employer in the area, and their television
ads for their You Pick blueberries were seen across the region. To this
day, it’s not unusual to for one of the Willis clan to come across
someone who fondly remembers picking or holding a summer job at
The Berries on Apple Dr in Nunica.
Being a dedicated member of the Michigan Blueberry Growers
Association (MBGA Member #10), the radish sandwiches Marilyn
enjoyed as a child were displaced by a love of all things blueberry.
Blueberry pies and treats were always a hit at family parties. When it
came to bringing a gift or contributing to the festivities, blueberry
themed calendars, knickknacks, or decorations were always a sure bet.
Joe and Marilyn blended farm life with traveling to interesting places,
often planning meet-ups with friends at a campsite. They spent many
enjoyable winters in Florida (most recently St. James City) in the
company of long-time friends, including a large number of fellow
blueberry farmers. They worked hard, played hard, and created a life
together modeled after their business motto: “It’s The Berries!”
Wherever Joe and Marilyn were, staying in touch with family was
always a top priority. Marilyn readily moved to using a computer for
farm operations, and became an early adopter of email. She later
became an avid Facebook follower, checking in regularly on her Kindle
tablet for updates and photos until her eyes failed.
Marilyn was skilled at all forms of handicraft, and she was exacting in
detail. If she caught an error, she was willing to undo many hours of
progress and rework it until it was exactly right. She always had new
projects to take on the road—most often gifts for family members. In
her own special way, she made sure to divide her time equally amongst
all of her children, their spouses, and her grandchildren. Each one has
something lovingly made by hand from Grandma Willis. In this way, she
lived out the words on the cherished sampler she stitched for daughter
Cheryl: "When future eyes upon this dwell, think of the stitcher who
wishes you well."
Marilyn passed on her lifelong love of reading and learning to her three
children. Barry, Cheri, and Bob were each gifted upon graduation an
overflowing scrapbook of childhood school assignments and
achievements. She took great pride knowing all of her children and
grandchildren did well in school and earned college degrees. She was
also pleased to see her love of crafting, music, and the arts extend
through each of her children and grandchildren.
In her later years, Marilyn enjoyed following college sports, especially
cheering on Joe’s alma mater Michigan State University. She relished
post-game calls with family to share her excitement after a big win.
Marilyn is survived by her daughter, Cheryl (Rex) Cargill; sons, Barry
(Joanne) Willis and Robert (Chris) Willis; 4 granddaughters, Lori Cargill,
Lynn (Alex) Cunha, Sarah (Andy Savina) Willis & Johna Willis; great
granddaughters, Gabriella & Camilla Cunha; many nieces, nephews,
cousins & friends.
A Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, October 19, 2019, 11 a.m.
with visitation one hour prior to the service at Clock’s Sunset
Celebrations with Pastor Dr. Donna Rick officiating.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations may be
made to Harbor Hospice Poppen House.