By Donald F. Willis
4902 Corian Well Way, San Antonio, Texas 78247-5903
Willis children were blessed to have been born into this very special family. O. J. Willis (Dad) spent his entire working life in the forest of East Texas. Wilhelmina Willis (Mom) was a child bride (15 years old), and spent her life with we children, nurturing us in the ways of God! Dad is 89 this month (June 20, 1997); and Mom is 81 (February 25, 1997). Eight children were born to this union: Homer Cecil, Donald Fred, Lewis Berton, Ouida Jean (Stover), Karen Sue (Morris), Steven Michael, and Barbara Madge (Coleman).
Cecil Willis was born March 4, 1932; I was born February 9, 1934. Most of our life was spent almost as twins, for we were about the same size throughout our schooling. I received the hand-me-downs. So many are the wonderful adventures that children experience. Cecil was daring, ambitious, challenging. We fought a lot (that is the way boys grow). When Mom would make us quit fighting, we would be punished. I always enjoyed it when she made us kiss, for nothing hurt Cecil worse than to have to kiss a brother!
Cecil enjoyed winning! He was an outstanding student in Groveton High School, cheerleader for two years, and then went on to play football, distinguishing himself as All District End. Coach Uthoff used Cecil as a challenge to incoming football boys for several years. In 1989, Cecil was recognized as an Outstanding Alumni in Groveton. Florida College years ago gave Cecil a plaque of appreciation in his assistance of students. Cecil said, “I want to show this to you one time, then I am going to put it away out of sight.” He accomplished, but was very humble about human recognition.
In the summer of 1944, Ned Fairbarin labored with the church in Trinity, Texas. Groveton did not have a preacher. Brother Fairbarin came every Thursday to teach ladies class. Mom attended . . . but, so did her children: Cecil (12), Don (10), Lewis (5). Brother Fairbarin had Cecil and I start making little talks on the plan of salvation, the church, the worship, etc. August 17, 1944 we were baptized by brother Fairbarin in the Beaver Pond in Woodlake.
When in the tenth grade, Basil Doran (outstanding singer in the Houston area) conducted a meeting in Groveton and encouraged Cecil to go to Abilene for the summer training as a song leader. Bill Thompson later moved to Groveton to preach, and encouraged him to attend Florida Christian College in 1949. Thompson was impressed that James Cope and Clinton Hamilton were moving to labor with the school. Brother King of Tyler assisted Cecil to attend Florida Christian College. Cecil was an outstanding student, preacher, debater, athlete. Cecil graduated with his Bachelor’s degree in 1953; I graduated that same year with the Associate of Arts degree. We were together, and had a close bond. Cecil had married Ioma Crim, and they had one son prior to graduation: Steve Willis. It was sort of unique to graduate from college alongside your older brother.
Cecil moved to Indianapolis, Indiana following Earle West at the Irvington church. The institutional church fight was beginning. Cecil took a strong stand, and had quite a lot of influence in the area. I moved to Palatka, Florida and later to Houston. My greatest encouragement came from Cecil, as he delighted to encourage and assist young preachers. He sent books, exchanged sermon topics, and was always encouraging me. Later, Cecil moved to Vivion Road (Kansas City), then Brown Street (Akron), and Marion, Indiana. Cecil gave his life to the Lord! Cecil traveled the country preaching the gospel. He assumed the debt of Truth Magazine, and published it for years. But, he was also married, and now had four children. Family differences arose, and ultimately a separation. As his health deteriorated, Cecil moved to Conroe, Texas where I then preached. He twice had pancreas surgery. His health was terrible. We “nursed” him for about four years. He preached in Huntsville, Texas. With a second marriage, Cecil began work for the prison system.
Cecil finally realized that his marriage was unscriptural and divorced. He moved to Fairbanks, Alaska to preach and get himself back together spiritually. Two years later he moved back to Groveton, where he preached and began care of Mom and Dad for eight difficult years. I was still in Conroe, and we spent a lot of time together.
Cecil always was studious and had a tremendous remembrance of issues and statements. One could call him on almost any subject, and he would tell you a book that dealt with that issue and about the page you could find that information discussed. He was always ready to assist one on most any issue.
Cecil was benevolent. He enjoyed carrying a lot of money around with him, and he was very generous to those who had any need. Several could bear better testimony than could I.
Cecil was evangelistic. He conducted many meetings. He made two trips to the Philippines. He financed the purchase of Vacation Bible School materials in the Philippines, often securing older song books and mailing them. He sup-ported preachers, he published a paper in the Philippines. There was work he was doing while others wondered what to do!
Cecil honored his father and mother. He gave many years of his life to enable Dad and Mom to remain at the old home place. He stocked a pond near the house so Dad and Mom (and many of the family) could fish. The needs for his parents were ascertained, and all the children attempted to satisfy those needs; but, Cecil cared for them lovingly … until he almost wore out. Now, my sister Ouida and her husband (Billy Stover) have assumed the arduous responsibility.
One funny. Dad never took vacations! However, once he took all of us to Oklahoma City to visit kin. Cecil and I were young, very young. Dad purchased us lariat ropes and a chalk pig. I recall the pictures. We had a lot of fun with the ropes, playing cowboys and Indians, tying one an-other up (I have the scar). We lived in Carmona, Texas. There was a vacant lot between our company house and our neighbor (later he was our principal). We came home and found some wild hogs in the vacant lot. Cecil decided we ought to rope a pig. We chased and chased; but could not get the rope on any. Cecil told me (little brother) to go to the other side of the lot and drive the hogs back around our lot. Cecil got on top our picket fence at the corner, made a large loop and put it on the ground. To be sure that he would catch the pig, he tied the rope around his waist. When I drove the pigs through, Cecil pulled his rope and got the mama sow, or better, she got him. Immediately she pulled him off the fence and down the road. Every now and then, she would slow up, and he could get up and run. Neither of us recall how he ever got loose. Cecil loved to tell those stories.
Oh, how he will be missed!
Guardian of Truth XLI: 15 p. 13-14
August 7, 1997