Hyde Park resident Don Willard passed away peacefully in his home on July 12, 2015, surrounded by family. The glioblastoma brain tumor that took his life was discovered on May 3.
Willard was born in Cambridge, Mass., in 1942. He served with the US Air Force, graduated from Boston College in 1968 and came to Hyde Park to study social psychology at the University of Chicago. He lived a full and happy life and was loved and admired for his strong spirit, optimism and humor. He was also appreciated by many for his intelligence and passion; he never committed to anything without giving it 100 percent and was selflessly dedicated to improving communities and the lives of others.
In his personal life, his moral compass was very strong, and ethical values drove his every life choice. He left academia in the 1970s to become one of the earliest stay-at-home dads. However, he remained a lifelong scholar, enriched by the university community.
Willard’s love for children was a primary focus in his life, and he influenced the lives of thousands through his dedication. As coach of the South Side Stars swim team, Willard grew a small team of 25 swimmers into a nationally recognized team of more than 150, all along encouraging young people to achieve their personal best. His efforts led to a community of strong, confident swimmers, many of whom went on to become part of champion teams at Kenwood Academy.
For his own personal fitness and well-being Willard maintained a daily routine at Ratner Gym from its opening and developed friendships with a large group of “regulars.” More recently, he enhanced his joy of swimming by his involvement in a group known locally as the Point swimmers and swam competitively for the first time at age 70 in Chicago’s Big Shoulders Open Water Swim Classic. The time he spent with those two communities nourished him greatly.
For years Willard volunteered much of his time in service of William H. Ray School, assisting in his grandsons’ classrooms and on field trips, serving as the community representative to the Local School Council, and on the Gardening, School Improvement and Safety committees. He also volunteered regularly unloading the food truck for the Hyde Park and Kenwood Food Pantry.
Willard is survived by Barbara, his wife of 50 years; his daughters Meredith (Cris Barrett), Robin (Bevis Pardee); his son Chris (Courtney Prokopas); his grandsons Gabriel, Luke and Liam Barrett, and Auden and Ashleigh Pardee; his sister Ellen; his brother Bill and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
A celebration of Willards’s life will be held at the Hyde Park Union Church, 5600 S. Woodlawn Ave., from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 2. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be mailed to “Friends of Ray,” at Ray School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., Chicago, IL 60637.