Jerry Willis was born January 3, 1934 in a farmhouse west of Maloy, Iowa to Loren O. and Dallas M. (Snethen) Willis and moved to Mount Ayr, Iowa when he was three. He went all through grade and high school in Mount Ayr except for the last half of the fifth grade when he attended school in Manhattan Beach, California.
While in school he started working part time when he was nine years old with a paper route and delivering special delivery letters for the post office. He also worked at drying sacks for the blue grass seed yard, blacksmith helper, parts washer in a farm implement as well as assembling machinery, farm day laborer, grocery box boy and dry cleaning shop, to name part of his early work experiences. He was an adamant fisherman and hunter from the age of 10, passions, which he never gave up.
Between his junior and senior years in high school he came to northern Idaho to work for the Forest Service. He fell in love with the country and life style. Upon finishing high school he returned, never to feel at home anywhere but Western Montana and Northern Idaho.
Jerry was drafted in October 1953. He served 21 months in the U.S. Army and was separated from active duty in September 1955. He was stationed from coast to coast and Alaska as a topographical surveyor. After discharge he came to Missoula and attended Montana State University.
While at the university he met Jo Ann Brooks and they were married in May 1956. Of this union there were two children born, Loren F. and Barbara K.
Jerry attended Bailey Technical Schools in Saint Louis, Missouri in 1958, completing the course in diesel and automotive mechanics. He worked for a number of years for equipment dealers in Montana, including the first Minute Man Missile sites around Great Falls. Jerry went to Alaska to work in the North Slope Oilfields in 1969, returning after six months away from home, to go to college at Eastern Montana College, earning a degree in special education. He then became involved in the training of people who had handicaps. After eight years of this work he became an instructor at the Missoula Technical School, teaching heavy equipment mechanics. After eight years there he again returned to working with people who had handicapping conditions. He retired from teaching in June 1996, pursuing his passion for hunting and fishing as much as possible.
From1965 until 1977 Jerry volunteered in many ways to promote the establishment of programs for people who were affected by mental retardation. He believed that this population of people was being over looked by society and they needed a spokesman. He worked to change laws and to obtain enabling legislation on both the state and national levels. He was very proud of his work in getting the national law passed which has now been changed into the IDEA legislation but he was most proud of his work with individual students and the change he was able to see them make in their functioning level.
Jerry became the adjutant for The American Legion Hellgate Post 27 in June 1999. While serving in this position, he worked on the Western Montana Cemetery Committee establishing a Veterans Cemetery in Missoula, Montana.
He became a very adamant square dancer and attended many dances making a wide circle of friends. Jerry attended dances all over the state and in California when visiting there. He even tried his hand at calling dances on amateur nights.
A memorial service was held Thursday, January 5, 2012, at the King’s Christian Church, 9830 Valley Grove Dr., Lolo. Interment with military honors was at the Western Montana State Veteran Cemetery.
Jerry passed away December 31, 2011, after a seven-month battle with cancer. Memorials are to the American Legion ball field or Opportunity Workshop, Inc., both in Missoula. Arrangements were under the care of Garden City Funeral Home.