Moline Memories - MHS 66 Friends

Monday, March 26, 2012

Charles Willey Died at 91

Charles Willey, Disciples of Christ,
Donald McGavran's denomination.

Former Moline pastor remembered as an inspiration - Quad Cities Online:

Charles Willey absolutely loved life, and he made the most of it for all his 91 years.

The former 37-year Moline Fire Department chaplain -- who was pastor at First Christian Church in Moline, a motivational speaker who worked worldwide and an avid outdoorsman who loved fishing and motorcycles -- died March 17 at age 91 in Fort Myers, Fla. A celebration of life will be held today at 11 a.m., at First Christian Church, 1826 16th St., Moline.

"He was the most wonderful speaker I've ever heard," Dolores Frybarger, of Moline, a church member since 1962, said Sunday. "He was a very inspirational, wonderful man. He spoke all over the world. It was just his personality, care and concern for everybody he came into contact with. He loved everybody and everybody loved him."

"He was very sunny, laughing. He loved life, he loved people, he loved adventure, he loved my mother," Rev. Willey's daughter Peggy agreed. "He loved everybody."

Rev. Willey was a native of Fairfield, Iowa, and his father and grandfather were also Disciples of Christ ministers. After meeting the love of his life in church, he eloped Nov. 9, 1940, with Betty Riley, beginning a 71-year marriage.

"He was quite a man. He enjoyed life," Mrs. Willey said Sunday. "He always gave you something to think about, to better yourself."

From 1944 to 1953, Rev. Willey was pastor of Coldbrook Christian Church in Cameron, Ill., and was pastor of First Christian Church in Moline, from 1953 until 1971. He worked with Motivational Public Speakers and Speakers Associates; was a 33rd Degree Mason, Eureka College Alumnus of the Year, and chaplain of the Moline Fire Department, retiring in 1999 from the volunteer position at age 78.

"He enjoyed the excitement, the adventure," Peggy Willey Clendenin said of his work with firefighters, "They loved having him there." Rev. Willey came to many fires, lent moral support and spent a lot of time at the fire station to shoot the breeze. "He was really a man's man," she said.

"I started as chaplain because many of my members at First Christian were firefighters, and I saw the opportunity as a way to serve the flock,'' Rev. Willey said in a 1999 Dispatch/Argus interview. He performed funeral ceremonies for former firefighters, married some firemen and gave the address at the annual firefighter's memorial service.

"I feel my main obligation to the department was to the firefighters.'' Rev. Willey said. "I tended to their spiritual needs, as well as helped them with any personal issues that may have come up.''

His daughter said he "married half the city and buried the other half." He was treated as a member of the fire department family, and the number of awards and plaques he got was too many to count, Mrs. Clendenin said.

A boisterous, irresistibly positive man with flaming red hair, Rev. Willey was in demand around the world as an inspiring, positive motivational speaker -- giving talks at conventions and conferences for a wide variety of businesses, organizations, and service clubs, Mrs. Clendenin said.

"It was about being positive, about people loving each other," she said, noting he'd tell folks "to pick up a piece of sunshine."

"He spoke to all the service organizations, and umpteen PTAs," Mrs. Willey said.

"He was well-known throughout the whole world. He traveled everywhere," said his friend Bob Greenway, a retired minister who will co-officiate today's memorial for Rev. Willey. "He was a good person to visit with, and to get advice from. He was a wonderful listener. He truly was like a Dad to me." His best piece of advice? "Stay married," Rev. Greenway said.

His daughter said Rev. Willey loved kids and enjoyed playing with them, including his seven great-grandchildren.

"He was a kid," Mrs. Clendenin said. "They thought he was the coolest, and he was 100 years old."

In his 60s, Rev. Willey parachuted out of an airplane after telling his wife he was going fishing, she said. He came home with grass stains, mussed hair, and a grin from ear to ear. How did her parents keep a 71-year marriage going?

"My Mom and Dad could still laugh together," Mrs. Clendenin said. "He'd tell the same old stories and she'd laugh like she'd never heard them. They just had a great time together."

"He was a very curious person," she added, noting when he was 90, he got a Kindle e-reader. He loved to read, and he adored traveling -- Mrs. Clendenin said his favorite place was "away." Her parents moved to Florida in 2006, where she lives.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Rev. Willey's survivors include a sister, Mary Elizabeth Willey, Fort Myers; and grandchildren, Scott Laud, Moline, Lora Wilson, Singapore, and Melissa Bishop, Omaha, Neb.; and seven great-grandchildren.

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